7 tips for working with contractors

Building a new home is exciting, and homeowners put a lot of trust in the contractors they hire.

The process of finding a contractor can be daunting, and finding a contractor is just step one. Once you select someone to construct your home, the real work begins. It's important to establish a working relationship with a contractor to ensure your requests are met on time and on budget. Here are seven contractor tips to help you avoid issues.

1. Get an itemized quote

When you're building a home, you'll make hundreds of choices about everything from the countertop material to the brand of plumbing fixtures you'll use. While there's a lot to choose, it's important to select all your materials so you have an itemized quote.1 If you haven't picked the exact brand or type of flooring for your half bath, for example, the contractor may put an estimate in your budget. This estimate, often called an allowance, could be drastically different than what you actually spend.2

Make sure the materials you selected are documented and itemized so you have a sound estimate to work with. This helps you better anticipate your expenditures.3

2. Ask about subcontractors

Before you choose a contractor, determine if they use subcontractors to complete the project. Subcontractors are licensed professionals who perform specific trades such as plumbing, electrical or drywall installation. If your contractor uses subcontractors, it's important to verify that their licensing and insurance is up to date, too. 4

Using subcontractors can impact different areas of your project. Ask your contractor how they plan to manage the subcontractors and how they'll keep the project on schedule. Find out how the contractor communicates changes and requests you might have to the subcontractor.5 While hiring subcontractors can still be an efficient way to get work done, it can also add an extra layer of safety and communication considerations. It's important to know how your contractor plans to field any complications and what their past experience is in working with subcontractors.

3. Set up a time to talk with contractors 6

You need a contractor that keeps you in the loop and is willing to provide updates on a regular basis. Ask the contractor how he or she prefers to communicate, and schedule a time that works for both of you.

Whether you’re hiring a contractor to build a new house or remodel, it’s crucial to have a conversation about home safety measures during construction before the start of the project.

During construction, many homeowners come to the job site first thing in the morning to get an update. A quick, 10-minute meeting is enough to keep you aware of progress and problems. In addition, it's a good time to ask questions.

If mornings don’t work for you or you don’t have time to meet in person, ask the contractor to call you at a specific time or request they send you daily updates via email or text. 

4. Plot a timeline 7

Both you and the contractor need a project timeline that lists specific events and deadlines that need to be completed. Set small specific benchmarks from start to finish in sequential order. As portions are completed, cross them off the timeline.

Hang the timeline at the job site and make sure you and the contractor check it regularly.

5. Prepare for problems 8

No matter how well planned a home build is, problems may arise. The kitchen cabinets are backordered or a storm has prevented access to the worksite. There are many things that can cause delays, damage or issues. When something doesn’t go according to plan, it is important to remain calm and be flexible. Discuss the problem respectfully, focus on solutions and adjust your timeline as needed.

6. Inspect contractor work periodically

After the job site is clear for the day, walk through it and check the quality of work.9 You might not know a lot about construction, but you can still spot potential issues or materials that are not what you selected. Look for things that look out of place, such as flooring or drywall that's not lined up.

You should also compare receipts with actual materials to make sure the contractor is installing what you've paid for.10 If you have concerns, talk with the contractor respectfully.

7. Offer kind gestures

Showing your appreciation can go a long way with contractors. They spend hours on the job site. Once in a while, you might want to bring doughnuts and coffee for breakfast or a few pizzas for lunch. Sit down and have a few bites with them and get to know them as people.

By showing these kind gestures, the contractors are more apt to return the favor by working a little later or pushing through a weekend to complete an important phase of the project.11

When you're working with contractors, it's crucial to communicate, have everything on paper and work to establish a trusting relationship. As the construction process takes place, it's a good time to call an insurance agent and get your homeowners insurance set up. That way, your new investment is well-protected when the work wraps up and it's time to move in.

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