How to Successfully Choose a General Contractor
As a general contractor, Bala Structures meets many people who want to undertake renovation work on their property. Certain people are very well prepared while others need some help to find their way. We wanted to share with you some of the strategies that generally contribute to starting off a residential renovation project on the right foot.
Before Calling a General Contractor
When you dream of making changes to your residence, there comes a time when you decide to start taking steps to make your dream come true. In order for everything to go smoothly, take the time to write down all the elements linked to the project that come to mind, thus slowly defining the parameters of your renovation project. Describe the work to be done. The more you detail this, the clearer and more complete the image of the project will be. Specify in what part of the property the work is located. Determine whether or not you will be doing part of the work yourself. Decide when you want the work to start. The longer ahead of time you start thinking about it, the better your project can be planned and prepared. Take pictures of the existing situation. Check with your municipality if the intended work is allowed in your area, whether there are certain criteria that need to be respected, if there are specific steps to be followed or permits to be obtained. If the project involves certain elements of which the specifications can already be shared (type of flooring, colour of paint, brand and model of an appliance, etc.), you can also write those down. That makes it easy to share this information with the rest of the details.
In addition to written parameters, it is often very useful to have a visual representation of the work that lies ahead. Much information can get lost by transmitting it via words. As they often say: “a picture is worth a thousand words.” It can be useful to draw what you envisioned alongside the photos of the existing situation. You can also make collages, draw on printed pictures or find images of what you want on the Web, or, if you have the ability to do so, manipulate pictures on a computer.
If you do not feel confident to illustrate your project to your liking, you can always call upon a designer or an architect who will be able to help you. For certain projects, such as an extension of a house, you have the obligation to have plans drawn up by an architect.
Defining the renovation project’s budget is a step that can be fairly difficult. This is why it is most often put off until the end. After all, isn’t this exactly why you want to ask a quote from a general contractor in the first place? However, an approximate idea of how much money you are willing to invest in the project will help the contractor to understand which materials will be within budget and which ones will be out of reach. The amount could, for instance, be formulated as a maximum that should be respected. This amount will also allow the contractor to let you know from the start whether your budget is realistic or not. You don’t need to prepare a detailed budget. You can indeed count on the contractor to take care of that.
Choosing a contractor
Once all basic information about the project is clarified, the time has come to choose a contractor for your renovation. You have to decide how many you want to contact. Obtaining a price from several contractors allows you to judge whether the quotes you receive are competitive and to choose the one you like most.
If you contact several contractors, make sure to be as clear and complete as possible about what you want. Give the same information to each one so you can compare accurately. Be specific about chosen materials, timing, etc. You will have to invest some time in communicating with each one of them.
When you first meet a contractor (often a simple phone call and/or email) provide the address of the job site, plans if available, otherwise sketches and photos of the existing situation. This information will allow the contractor to decide whether he can participate in your project. If so, you can give more information about the project’s parameters.
Check if the selected contractors have all required permits. Ask if employees have all required certificates to do the work if the work is done in the province of Quebec, what type of warranty if offered, if he has a security or a bond by an official organization. Take a look at the business Web site and call for references if you want. Often, you can now find reviews on design Web sites or the company’s own Web site or Facebook page.
You will have to decide or negotiate whether your project will be performed under a fixed price or an hourly contract. A fixed price contract established a price up front that needs to be respected unless you or unforeseen circumstances modify the scope of work. An hourly contract does not establish a project cost up front. However, you need to agree on the hourly rate for labor and on the management fees that will be applied to the cost of materials. With an hourly contract, it is best to have a budget made up by the contractor. This will look like a quote and will give you an idea of the project cost and allow you to compare the different contractors. For renovations, Bala Structures generally chooses to work with a fixed price contract. For new buildings, we use the hourly contract option because too many variables come into play.
The contractor of your choice will not automatically be the one with the lowest price. At the end of the submission process, you can put together all the research you have done and all the information you have gathered in order to make an informed decision: price, references, first impressions, interactions, ease of access, obtaining information and answers, experience of the business and its workers, proposed approach to the work, warranty offered, etc.
The Site Visit
Before making up the estimate, the contractor will have to visit the site where the work will take place in order to become more familiar with the site and with your expectations.
Make sure you are present because often the first contact in person with the company’s representative will give you a positive, negative or neutral impression. This impression will be a very important element in the final choice of your renovation partner. You will have numerous interactions with the company, might as well make sure to get along together.
Take the time to detail all the work to be done. Even for smaller projects, it is best to allow at least one hour for this. For medium size projects, it is best to reserve two hours for this visit. For larger renovation projects such as additions to existing buildings, more than one visit might be necessary.
After the visit, the contractor has to make up the estimate. He will detail the project budget and attribute the cost of materials and labour. He will also contact sub-contractors if necessary. Depending on the scope of the renovation project, making up an estimate can take a few days or several weeks. You have to know that the contractor probably has several other estimates to do, and in addition various job sites to manage, which also takes time. Be patient, but not too much. Don’t hesitate to call and check for progress after a while and take that opportunity to ask if there are any questions.
Once you have received all the estimates, contact all contractors if required and ask questions for clarification. All estimates will not contain the same amount of detail from one contractor to the other, and it will be necessary to obtain more details from some of them so that an appropriated comparison can be made between the different estimates.
When comes the time to make a choice, you can choose to formalize your agreement with a contract. For small renovations, the estimate itself can be used as a contract. Make sure that it contains the following elements: detailed identification of the work, name of the client, price, information about the company such as tax number, license number of the Régie du bâtiment du Québec, validity and date of the estimate. A proper contract contains much more details and specifies things such as each party’s responsibility, terms of payment, etc. If the company has a good reputation, an estimate will often be enough. If, however, you have any doubt, choose to work with a contract or choose a contractor you trust.
With all these elements in hand, you are ready to obtain your municipal renovation permit.
Enjoy your renovation!
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