Sunday, February 1, 2009

interviewing contractors

With the drawings and specifications complete, we solicited bids from several contractors in order to get different perspectives of the project and potential cost. I identified three residential remodeling contractors whose general philosophy and approach seemed most inline with our own. We asked each contractor several questions:
  • What is your specialty?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • Are you licensed, bonded and insured (see below)?
  • How many employees do you have?
  • How many crews do you have?
  • How many projects do you complete a year?
  • How many projects do you work on at any given time?
  • What is the average size or type of project?
  • Is my project similar to projects you typically worked on?
  • How long will my project take?
  • When can you start my project?
  • What are your fees? payment schedule?
  • Do you have a list of references (see below)?
  • May I see finished a project (see below)?
  • May we meet some of the project managers/lead carpenters?
    Besides the answers, we were attentive to how and what they communicated. Sometimes their behavior or what they did not say was just as important as what was said. It seemed as if some contractors were not particularly interested in the project or in us as clients, which was highly unusual given the current economic conditions (it’s winter 2008-09). We liked the contractor whose general philosophy mirrored our own values and whose demeanor set us at ease. Like-ability is key, as he and his crew would be in our house almost all day, everyday for several weeks if not months.

    Each contractor requested a separate, two-hour walk-through with their sub-contractors. We fielded questions from the subs and asked some of our own. The subcontractors that impressed us most were the ones that were asking questions and making suggestions. They demonstrated that they were thinking beyond what was drawn in plan, were actively engaged in the project and wanted to do what was best, as if it were their own house. When possible, we asked the general contractor to stagger the subs’ visits so that we, the general contractor and the sub-contractor could have an uninterrupted opportunity to look at the house and ask questions. It was difficult when there were several subs looking at the space and asking questions at the same time.

    We checked out each contractor with the local CCB to verify that they were licensed, bonded and insured. It is best to check this each and every time before hiring anyone. In the past, I've had several contractors tell me they were LBI when they were not.

    We obtained references from each contractor, contacted at least three of them and asked:
    • Did the project come in on time and under budget?
    • Was it easy to communicate with the contractor?
    • Was he prompt and responsive?
    • What were some of the challenges in the project?
    • What were some of the challenges in working with the contractor?
    • Were you happy with the work when it was first complete, and are you still happy?
    • Would you hire the contractor again?
    • What would you do differently?
    • Do you have any other suggestions or words of wisdom?
    As our project was relatively sizeable and involved, we asked the contractor to see a finished project that was similar in scope. We paid close attention to the finish work (carpentry), cabinetry, paint job, tile work, intersection of different materials and their transitions, and door thresholds. At each project, we asked the contractor:
    • How long did this project take?
    • Did the project come in on time and under budget?
    • What were some of the challenges this project posed?
    • What would you do differently in this project?
    • What did you learn?
    • Will you use the same subs in our house that worked on this project?
    It was surprising that some of the projects we saw weren’t the best examples of the contractor’s work. Didn’t they know that this was an interview and that they should put their best foot forward? I mean, did they want the job or not?

    Tune in next time for comparing the bids!

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