Frequently Asked Questions
We understand that making a decision about who to hire isn’t easy. People usually have a ton of questions. Here are some answers that we hope will help in your process!
What is a General Contractor?
A general contractor is a building professional who is knowledgeable and equipped to manage all phases of a building project, including hiring and scheduling any necessary subcontractors (such as electricians, plumbers or plasterers). They are responsible for procuring materials and overseeing all phases of the work.
Most (but not all) general contractors are also skilled carpenters. Some general contractors are more or less project managers who hire carpenters to do the physical work for them. In my case, however, I do the work myself to assure that all work is done according to my standards.
A handyman, on the other hand, is generally not a skilled carpenter, but rather someone who can perform several handy projects around the house. It is not recommended to hire a handyman for building jobs.
How Do I Decide on a Contractor?
- Research the work you want to have done ahead of time.
- Get recommendations from friends or find someone recommended online.
- Talk to more than one contractor and get quotes. If there is a large variance, ask each contractor questions about what is or is not included.
- Research the contractor you select.
- Ask for proof of Liability Insurance, and if in Massachusetts, ask for the Construction Supervisor’s License
- Ask for and call references
- Ask to see photos of their work
- Note that you usually get what you pay for with home improvement contractors – cheaper isn’t always better! It’s more important to select someone who knows their business, knows the market, and has a great reputation.
- Be sure you feel comfortable with anyone you hire to do work on your home.
How Do I Work Well With a Contractor?
- It’s a business agreement – both parties should conduct themselves with this in mind.
- Communicate as clearly and fully as possible, and demand the same from your contractor.
- Decide what’s important to you and set those expectations ahead of time.
- Ask questions but respect his or her expertise.
- Ask for a contract on larger jobs. If it is lacking some detail you wish to see, ask for it. This is your responsibility.
- Any significant change in cost or scope of work should always be put into writing so both parties are clear on what is being agreed upon.
- Be mindful that any changes you wish to make along the way will most likely affect cost and final timeline.
- If you like the contractor you worked with, pass their name along. Contractors get most of their business through word of mouth.
How Do I Plan for the Cost / Budget?
An experienced contractor knows how to bid a job accurately, but also knows that unforeseen issues can come up that might affect the bottom line. To be prepared, leave a financial safety net for yourself that will allow you the funds to handle the unexpected, such as a plumbing issue uncovered when a wall is taken down, or a change of mind in the direction of the work, as you see it taking shape. You want to be sure you can afford to complete the job to your satisfaction, so don’t cut it too fine.
Most jobs are bid on a contract basis, but in some instances, a contractor will agree to work on a “Time and Materials” basis.
CONTRACT BASIS: Good contractors will provide you with a reasonably reliable quote for work you wish to have done. The benefit of working on a contract or agreement is that you can anticipate the cost of the project ahead of time and plan accordingly. Contract-based work is generally paid in installments, with a deposit at the start of the job so the builder can purchase materials.
TIME & MATERIALS: This means they bill you as they go for the exact time they spend, and for what they spend on materials. This arrangement might be suitable in some instances, particularly when funds are not available up front, but it is harder to keep manage the cost and timing of the job, and can make it hard for a client to anticipate and plan for the total cost of the project.
Proceeding on a contract basis is generally recommended and of benefit for both parties, with a payment schedule that protects both equally. One or two day jobs might be paid for in full at the end of the project if materials were not required for purchase. Most moderately-sized jobs, however, observe a traditional payment schedule of 1/3 up front, 1/3 in the middle, and 1/3 at satisfactory completion. On larger jobs, the payments may be broken into more increments, which allow the work and the payments to remain on an even footing between client and contractor, protecting both parties from start to finish.
How Do I Plan for the Project Timeline?
Timing is a very complicated dance that can be thrown off by:
- A task taking longer than expected
- Subcontractor scheduling snafus
- Delayed materials delivery
- Unforeseen structural problems
- Illness or family emergency, whether the client or contractor
- The customer being home to let the workers in, or calling off work for a period of time
Assume your project will take longer than expected – it generally will! The bigger the job, the more can go wrong. Remember that there are many things a contractor has to juggle to make a building project happen, and not all of which are under his control.
If you have a particular reason to need work done by a certain date, discuss this very clearly with your contractor before you hire him or her. A smart contractor won’t promise the uncertain.