Tips to Working Well with Your General Contractor

by Jane VanOsdol on October 12, 2011

You’re finally ready to start that home improvement project you’ve been dreaming about. You’ve hired a contractor and are just about ready to get started. Before you do, you need to understand the importance of having a good working relationship with your general contractor so that your project progresses according to plan. Remember, no project is perfect and surprises do come up that you just can’t know ahead of time, (such as the rotting subflooring underneath your flooring). Surprises aside, here’s a few tips to help you work with your contractor.

Working With Your General Contractor

  • It almost goes without saying, but make sure you’ve checked the references of your general contractor. You want to be sure they are a reputable, professional business. They should be bonded, insured (both liability and workman’s comp) and licensed in your state.
  • Before your contractor draws up a detailed bid for your project, you will want to have made as many decisions as possible about what materials and finishes you want to use. For example, know that you want to use BellaWood Brazillian Redwood and that you found it for 2.99 sq. ft at Lumber Liquidators. Or price out ahead of time the exact appliances you want to use in your kitchen. Your contractor may be able to offer you materials at better pricing because of their discounts, but at least have a realistic idea of what you want to spend in each area so that you avoid allowances in the bid.
  • Communication is key. Establish a regular way and time of communicating, usually daily with your contractor  so that you are able to discuss any issues, questions or problems that arise. Perhaps you can talk before you head off to work each morning, or if that doesn’t work, maybe you can check in on your lunch hour each day. The longer you let a problem drag on, the more costly and time consuming it can be to fix it.
  • Don’t forget to keep a notebook of the project. Instead of making notes on different scraps of paper and then losing them, purchase a notebook and write down everything pertaining to the project in that notebook. If you prefer, keep your notes on your smart phone or on your tablet. You’ll have  a written record of what decisions were made, any necessary changes you want done, part numbers you need to look up, names of the workers and what time a delivery will be made. It’s indispensable to the project and will save you loads of frustration because all your notes will be in one place. Take it with you to showrooms.  Note:  be sure you put any changes in writing in the contract.
  • Remember to check the contractor’s work. Both you and the contractor should approve the work. Be sure the appliances and other materials that you ordered are in fact the ones that are installed. Try to do this checking during the workers lunch break or after they leave so that you’re not impeding their work, but by all means speak up right away if you notice a mistake.
  • Pay on time. Your contract should specify your payments. Generally, during a project you may have three or four payments that are based on certain work being completed. Once the contractor has completed the work to your and his satisfaction, then you make the payment promptly so that he can pay his workers. You should usually only have to pay about 10% or so upfront (the contractor should be able to purchase materials with his line of credit). And only make the final payment once all the work is completed, any changes are made and the final inspection is done.
  • Finally, be a thoughtful customer. Be courteous to the work crew. Greet them by name, and make sure you have designated a rest room for them to use. Treat them a few times to coffee or a snack, and you’ll be sure to be one of their favorite customers.

A little planning and preparation will help ensure that your next home improvement project is a successful one.

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