As anyone can tell you, there are no guarantees in life – or in construction. Even with an architect hired to “inspect” the contractor’s work, at the end of the day, you’ve got to hire someone you can trust to do good work. So really ask around, check with the Better Business Bureau, and check references. Find someone with an excellent reputation and strong track record in the community. Find someone you have a good rapport with. Find out if the contractor will be on the job site regularly and will be available to you if there are problems.
Choose a company that fits your style and personality. If you like a warm and personal approach, a small one-crew company might be just right for you. The contractor may be on the job daily swinging a hammer. The crew may do most of the work themselves and use relatively few subcontractors – usually better for finicky, specialized, or customized work. If you want speed, efficiency, and professionalism, a larger more corporate outfit might suit you better.
Whichever way you go, proceed with your eyes open. Be smart: Trust, but verify. By that I mean, make sure the specs provided by the contractor are sufficiently detailed and complete and will meet your expectations for quality (you can get a second opinion from a construction manager or architect if you’re not sure). Make sure the bid is realistic – that allowances adequate for the materials you will probably choose. Ask to see certificates of insurance and read the contract carefully – have it checked by your lawyer if it seems too murky or one-sided.
Finally, don’t expect to the get the best job from the low bidder. If one bidder is significantly below the others, either he is making a mistake (often due to inexperience), is planning to make up the difference in change orders, or is at risk of losing his shirt and may end up cutting corners or even walking off the job.
Don’t ask a Realtor to recommend a Lawyer or Home Inspector when you are buying or selling a house.
The inspector and lawyer are your advisers on a transaction. You are paying for their advice and knowledge as they lookout for you. When this type of professional relies on real estate agents to refer them business, they are slightly more attuned to the realtors interests (like getting transactions closed) then they are to your interests (seeing potential problems ahead of time).
No nefarious intent is needed, but a realtors livelihood depends on getting deals done. If a home inspector points out too many problems or gives an overall assessment that makes a buyer reconsider, the realtor will likely not refer the inspector in the future.
Ask anyone other than your Realtor for a recommendation, best if you get someone from the next town over so they are less likely to have relationships to any of the agents on your deal.
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