General contractors are firms that contract to do construction projects
for owners of buildings or other facilities. A general contractor
is responsible for constructing a project in accord with contract document
specifications. A general contractor is usually responsible
to supply all materials, labor, equipment and services necessary
for project construction. General contractors often farm out
parts of a project to subcontractors who specialize in particular
Before signing a contract to engage the services of a general contractor,
you should review the contract's terms and conditions with an attorney. In
addition, here are a few helpful pointers for homeowners and small businesses
to consider when hiring a contractor:
- Get "word-of-mouth" contractor referrals from friends, neighbors,
and co-workers. Contact local trade organizations such as the
National Association of Home Builders
or local Builder Association for the names of members in your area.
Check out each contractor with the Better Business Bureau
and with state or local consumer protection officials.
Read Home Sweet Home Improvement for consumer advice
from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on finding a competent and
reliable contractor. A convenient way to find home improvement
contractors in your local area is to use the
contractor matching service.
- Obtain written estimates or bids from several general contractors.
Be sure the bids are based on identical project specifications.
Ask each contractor for customer references with projects similar
to yours. Request a copy of each contractor's current insurance
certificates and licenses, as required.
- Before engaging the services of a contractor, be sure to work out
a written contract with the contractor and review it with your attorney
before signing it. A written contract establishes a reference point
to help resolve questions or disagreements before, during, and after
the project. Don't hesitate to question and negotiate the terms
and conditions of the contract, and get all guarantees, warranties, and
promises in writing.
Material specifications and clear project drawings should be included
in the written contract. You may wish to make minor design changes
as the project progresses. Both you and the contractor should
use written change orders for any modifications that affect the work
or materials requirements, cost, or schedule specified in the original
contract. Each change order should specify the date, the change
to be made, the altered material specifications, the cost, and the impact
on the project schedule.
- Ensure that agreed-upon start and completion dates are written into
the contract, and be sure to obtain at least a one-year warranty.
This is important because changing seasons, including winter frosts
and summer heat, can expose problems that are not normally evident.
- Include provision for a "punch list" near the end of the project,
when you can inspect the job and specify any minor problems that need
to be resolved before you send final payment to the contractor.
- You and the contractor should each designate a contact person
or "go to" person who is responsible for addressing concerns and
making decisions during the course of the project.
- Expect some surprises during the construction process. Hidden
problems like water leaks or insect damage can arise as the project
progresses. As with owner-specified design changes, written change
orders should be used for any issues that affect the work or materials
requirements, cost, or schedule specified in the original contract.
- Large contracts often require an initial deposit, with periodic
payments as the work progresses. Don't agree to pay more than
33 percent of the total cost up front. And don't agree to a low
final payment that the contractor is willing to forfeit rather than
completing the project.
- Insist on the appropriate building permits, even though they add
to the expense of the project. Separate permits may be required
for plumbing, electrical, and general construction work, but they can
help ensure that the contractor's work meets construction codes.
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