It can be scary to let a contractor into your home to make major alterations. Here is a great article from Reality Times to guide you through what you should look for in any contractor. Link to Original Article
You may be a do-it-yourselfer, or you may not, but at some point in time, you may have a job that is so complex, expensive or skills-specific that you will want to hire a general contractor to oversee the work.
A good general contractor is worth his or her weight in gold if you are interested in saving time, money and aggravation. The contractor's job is to assure that the proper building permits are obtained, that all work adheres to code (and will pass inspection should the home be put on the market), and oversee the hiring and scheduling of subcontractors so that the job will go smoothly. The contractor will also obtain the materials, keep track of the receipts, and is responsible for paying the subcontractors when the job is complete and cleaned up. And the job isn't complete until the homeowner is satisfied.
The question is how to find a good one. In this case, there are no substitutes for word-of-mouth and checking references. Ask friends and family who have had work done in their homes who they would recommend. If you get the name of a contractor from another source, such as an architect, kitchen design studio or a decorator, make sure you see the kind of work that has been done in the past.
When you interview contractors, ask for their references. But references do no good if you don't call them and ask to see the work. For added peace of mind, call the building code inspector in your city, the Better Business Bureau, and the municipal builder's licensing board to find out if there have been any complaints.
Ask to see their proof of license, insurance and bonding. Find out from the building code official what licenses are required so that you will know them when they are presented to you. Ascertain that the contractor carries liability insurance and find out who in your area is responsible for workman's compensation. It could be you, the contractor or the subcontractors. Best not to take chances. In some areas, bonding is a requirement of doing business. A reputable general contractor will have no problem presenting the credentials of the subcontractors he or she plans to use.
Pay attention to how well you communicate with each other. Be sure that he or she understands your priorities. Does the contractor answer questions directly, return phone calls in a timely fashion, appear to be interested in your project? Do you feel at ease with this person? What is this person's attitude? Is his or her behavior appropriate? Follow your instincts. If you are uncomfortable in any way, there is probably a good reason, the least of which could be a failure to truly communicate which can lead to hard feelings down the line. Even if the contractor has an excellent reputation, if you feel ill at ease, why would you want to work closely with someone on a project as emotionally and financially charged as your living environment? You don't have to, and shouldn't.
To help in communicating your needs and wishes, be prepared to show the contractor the finished look you are after. Illustrate your points with photos, magazine spreads, architect's drawings, paint chips, finish samples and samples of the design details you want to include. Make sketches to illustrate what you want and where. Verify measurements with the contractor to insure that everything you want to do will be in scale and correctly proportioned for the room's function and your personal comfort.
Ask contractors to give you an itemized bid. The bid should be succinct and should spell out step-by-step what needs to be done, what materials will be used, what steps will be taken to complete the work, and what the labor costs will be. Pricing varies from contractor to contractor, but generally count on a 15% add-on as the contractor's fee. In some jobs, there may be a variance in estimated costs such as materials or labor but the final costs should not vary more than 10-15% of the bid, and this proviso can also be included in the contract. Be sure to have all bids written in such a way that you can compare the costs in an apples-to-apples fashion.
Make sure the contract has a start date and a completion date, or you may find yourself with days going by and no progress being made on your project because your contractor has accepted an interim job somewhere else. If the contractor returns a general or open-ended price for the work or finish date, find another contractor. If you should decide to add more work as construction gets under way, be prepared to adjust the costs and finish date. Amend your contract in writing.
To monitor costs, you can ask to reimburse materials on the job plus 15%. Ask to see receipts for all materials purchased for the job. A payment schedule, which should be outlined in the contract, should reflect only work done to date and materials purchased. If for some reason, your contractor is unable to finish, you will have enough money to complete the work with someone else.