How to Choose Contractors

Get expert tips for picking a construction manager and crew for your addition project

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An addition project involves hundreds of choices, about everything from the overall design approach to the materials you'll use. But no decision will have as large an impact on the success of the job as the choice of the team you hire to do the job. So don't make a snap decision. Follow this simple six-step vetting process:

  1. Get Recommendations. There are possibly hundreds of contractors in your area who'd love to come and build your addition. But to get your job done right, on time and on budget, you need to be very careful about which one you choose. Talk to friends who's taste and sensibilities you trust and who've recently done similar projects. Talk to tradesmen who've done good work for you before. Put together a short list of 3 to 5 contractors with topnotch recommendations.
  2. Show Your Project. Invite each of the contractors on your short list to come and look at your project, making sure to drop the name of the person who recommended them. "Just as the homeowner is vetting the contractor, we're vetting the homeowner and the project," says Eden Prairie, Minn., design-build contractor Mark Mackmiller. "And a referral from a great customer gets my attention." Walk through the house—and your ideas—with the contractor, taking notes on his feedback and any other impressions you get about him. If you like what you hear, ask him to bid on the job.
  3. Look at Their Other Jobs. As they're working on their bids, ask each contractor to take you on a tour of a few of his similar projects—both completed and, if possible, in the works. Look at the quality and aesthetics of the finished job. And check the ongoing project to see the professionalism of the crew and the cleanliness of the jobsite. Make sure you get introduced to the workers on site, says Woodcliff Lake, N.J. design-build contractor Rob Wennersten. Take notes about your impressions, either at the scene or immediately afterward, because things can start to blend together when you're visiting numerous sites with different contractors.
  4. Check Their References. Ask, also, for some references you can speak with. If a contractor produces a long list of names in and nearby your community, that's a terrific sign because a short list could be a bunch of ringers (like family members and friends—or the few happy customers he's ever had). Call a random sampling from the list, not the first ones, and ask them some pointed questions, such as if they'd use the contractor again, what his greatest strength is, what his biggest weakness is, if there were any cost or time overruns on the project and so forth. Again, take notes to help keep track of all of the information.
  5. Compare Their Bids. When you see the bids, don't focus too much on price. Unless you've already designed and specified the project in a pretty detailed manner (in other words, you've hired an architect and already have the plans), the contractors are all guessing at what your project will entail. A single window can range from $300 to $1,200 for example, depending on the product you choose. Granite kitchen countertops can range from $3,000 to $10,000 depending on the stone and the edging you select. But the bid does offer you a good window into the approach each contractor will take.
  6. Go With Your Gut. After throwing out any extremely high or low bids, both of which are typically trouble, set aside the prices they've quoted and think about what you've learned about each candidate from one-on-one conversations, from looking at their work, from talking to their customers, and from looking at their proposals. By now, you've learned a lot about the style, character and diligence of each one, says New York City architect Dennis Wedlick. And it's those factors that you should consider most in your decision.


Next Up

Managing Your Home Addition

From doing daily walk-throughs to making fast decisions, follow these best practices to ensure the process goes smoothly.


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