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Ann Architect, Renovation Design GroupAnnie Architect, Renovation Design Group

Renovation Solutions is weekly column on architectural home design by Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer, Principal Architects of Renovation Design Group, a Utah architectural firm focusing on home renovation design.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Be thorough when selecting a general contractor

By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer

Choosing the right general contractor is a critical step in remodeling your home.

No matter how well your architect designs the plans or how vividly you envision the project, the remodeling contractor can literally make or break the final outcome.

Selecting a good general contractor is important because he or she will oversee all aspects of the construction project.

Selecting your general contractor can make or break your entire project. Ask people for referrals, and always check references.

So, how do you choose a contractor?

Forgo the yellow pages on this one, and collect recommendations.

Ask for referrals from design professionals, your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and others who have had remodeling done. Gathering as many referrals as you can will tell you which general contractors have a good reputation in the community.

You can also research contractors through local trade associations, such as the local home builders' association. Contractors who are involved in trade associations are generally more professional.

If they are active members, you know they are committed to their business and are serious about what they do.

Once you have a list of potential general contractors, interview and assess the candidates. Evaluate their credentials. Make sure they are legitimate by confirming that they have a current building license on file with the state. Make sure they have a permanent address, phone number, e-mail, etc. Confirm that they have insurance and that the limits are sufficient for your project. (A contractor should be able to supply you with a copy of his or her current policy.)

Invite the contractors to your house to review your plans and see your existing house. Are they professional? Do they respond promptly to your inquiries? Are they on time to meetings? All these things will give you an idea of what kind of team member they will be if you hire them.

Ask each general contractor to show you a portfolio with photos of his completed projects. Also ask for references from your candidates, and make sure you really call them.

Find out if the contractor was clean, on time and on budget. How well did they deal with problems that came up during the job? Was the contractor easy to work with? Was he on the job site regularly? Responses from a contractor's former and current clients can give you an accurate picture of how it would be to work with them.

Discuss the general contractor's current and projected schedule. Ask how long he thinks your job will take and when he can start. Sometimes patience is required; good general contractors are usually busy.

When you have identified three or four general contractors with whom you are comfortable, provide each of them with a set of completed plans and specifications to obtain bids.

Be specific in requesting an itemized bid (not just one big lump sum) and providing a deadline for submitting a bid.

Most general contractors in Utah will provide a bid free of charge, as this is the marketing portion of their business. Make sure you ask them to specify whether their bid is a fixed-fee or a time-and-materials estimate.

Next week, we will discuss analyzing the bids that you receive.

For now, however, remember that choosing a contractor is an important step, but it is not the first in remodeling. Begin by choosing a good architect to create the plans and specifications that will enable you to collect accurate construction bids. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at

© 2009 Renovation Design Group. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Renovation Design Group.

If you are considering a remodel project, please Request a Free Consultation with Ann or Annie.

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