Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hiring the Perfect Contractor for the Job: Finding "Mr. Right" -The search for the perfect contractor.


I guess you could say I "grew up in the business.” My great grandfather was a developer in Pittsburgh after World War II. My paternal grandfather was a union carpenter and worked his way up to Construction Superintendent on large jobs like the Watergate in Washington, DC. My father took the path of higher education and became a Professional Engineer, working in Construction Contract Management for major projects like the New Library of Congress (it is not so new anymore!). Construction talk was dinner conversation most evenings. The epic stories are the ones of major mishaps.

Now as an Architect (the only one to carry on in the “family business”), not a day goes by that I don’t talk to a contractor. Clients and friends who are renovating their homes always want to know who my favorite contractor is. Well, I must qualify that …I have never met a contractor that I wouldn’t get a drink with…they are in general light-hearted guys that know how to have a good time. But just like finding “Mr. Right, you would not necessarily want to enter into an “until death/built do we part” agreement.

So, my experiences have taught me to:

1. Get recommendations and references from each Contractor
  • Call the references
  • Verify that the work done by the contractor is similar in scope to what you are    planning to do.
  • One reference is not enough…
2. Ask the reference how they know the Contractor
  • Be specific and ask if they are a friend or family-member of the contractor?
  • Would they hire the contractor or their sub-contractors again?
  • What was the scope of their project.
  • Did the contractor meet the schedule.
  • How did the contractor communicate with them--email, phone, notes, in person?
  • Did you work with an Architect? Did the contractor follow the drawings?
3. Ask to visit two jobs similar in scope that the Contractor has completed.
  • Make sure the client is going to be there, and verify that this Contractor did the work that you are looking at. I have personally been shown very impressive projects where the Contractor led one to believe that he had built the entire house. Research into the initial permit at the building department revealed that the house was built by others.  He was a past employee of the company.
  • Look at where materials change/meet. That may tell you what type of craftsman the Contractor is. It could also be the fact that they did or did not work with an architect on the detail…so ask.
4. Check the recommendations and complaint records
  • Better Business Bureau
  • Local online sites
5. Licensing, registrations, EPA Lead Safe Certification and insurance
  • Call and verify that all of the documents are originals and currently active; don’t accept a certificate as proof before you sign a contract.
  • Call your insurance agent to determine if your Homeowner's policy requires an additional rider during construction.
6. Beware of a Contractor that wants you to…
  • File for permits yourself or tells you that he can “do it” without a building permit.
  • Pay in cash or will not allow you to retain 10% of the costs until you have a Certificate of Occupancy as required by law in New Jersey and stated on the Building Permit. 
  • Wants you to pay the subcontractors directly.
Often, once I know more about you and your project I am a better match-maker. Personality does play a huge role in matching clients up with Mr. Right. So, once you have found “Mr. Right”…it is time to "get engaged." We will go over getting the right pre-nuptials next time. Until then, to learn more about how to work with an architect or the process of getting the right construction documents—your contract with the contractor for that big day -- visit www.clawsonarchitects.com.

Contracts and Contractors: "Pre-nuptials" - Your Contract with the Contractor

"Pre-nuptials"-- Your Contract with the Contractor

When it comes to renovations, alterations, additions, or building a new house, the best endings are “…and they lived happily ever after.” The best way to get to “Happily Ever After” is to clearly and concisely define expectations and to make sure that your expectations are in alignment with that of Mr. Right, the Contractor, before you say “I do.”

The best way to do this is have a Contract. When building a residential project, you really need a set of Construction Documents, which are Architectural Design Drawings and Specifications that communicate your expectations to the Contractor. I recommend this approach even if you are “just remodeling your powder room.”

The Architectural Drawings may include the following:
  1. A survey of the site showing the footprint of your house and any additions.
  2. Existing conditions drawings that represent your “as-built” house.
  3. A Scope of Work defined in words and drawings.
  4. Demolition plans if the project is a renovation.
  5. Dimensioned floor plans, elevations, and reflected ceiling plans illustrating the Scope of Work.
  6. Wall Sections and Construction Details are technical drawings required by the Building Department that provide information pertaining to the structural, environmental and other components of the house.
  7. Electrical Plans that specify and locate: lighting fixtures, electrical receptacles, lighting switches and dimmers, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, as required by code.
  8. Structural Drawings representing the foundation and framing of the house.
  9. Mechanical Systems Drawings that specify systems and coordinate locations, color, size and models for supply and return registers as well as radiators and thermostats.
  10. Plumbing and Gas Riser Diagrams. These are single line drawings that schematically represent the fixtures and fittings for each system.
  11. Details for the project that articulate what will happen where two materials come together.
  12. Material Specifications. Larger projects have specifications in book form. Smaller projects can simply incorporate the material and fixture selections by notes on the drawings.
  13. A Professional Seal from a licensed architect and/or engineer certifying and insuring that the drawings and calculations are correct and meet national, state and local building codes.
Additional concerns to discuss and include in your contract are:
  1. Schedule for the work and hours of work permitted by your Township.
  2. Emergency contact numbers for Contractor
  3. A Payment Schedule clearly showing milestones for the project and the corresponding payments.
If you plan to live in a home that is being renovated, these are additional items to discuss with the Contractor:
  1. Notification prior to electrical, water and heating shut downs and provision of temporary service if more than one day.
  2. Protection of areas not in Scope of Work, especially protection from dust migration.
  3. Introduction to the Contractor’s superintendent who will be your daily contact on the job.
  4. Schedule for weekly progress meetings.
The drawings and specifications serve as Construction Documents and appear as an “Exhibit” to the formal Contract between the Client and the Contractor. By defining your expectations in the Construction Documents, you are:
  1. Clearly defining the desired Scope of Work.
  2. Protecting the investment in your house.
  3. Protecting the structural and material integrity of your house.
  4. Minimizing the length of time that you will spend “working on your project.”
Following the process described above provides you with a guide for a successful project. It is a less stressful and more enjoyable approach to what is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

If a potential Contractor hands you a one to two page document that does not reference the Construction Documents by title and date of issue, overlooks the construction schedule, and focuses only a payment schedule, think twice.

Because when we are talking about your house…there is only one good ending and that is Happily Ever After.