Nailing It Down: Keys to hiring a great contractor

  • Mon Feb 17th, 2020 9:01am
  • Life

Nailing It Down

By Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty

Is this the year you are going to remodel the kitchen, add a bathroom or add a garage?

If so, you’ll want to think ahead and begin planning that project now. For one thing, if you need to hire a contractor to complete your project, you’ll want to get on their schedule as soon as possible.

Once you decide to enlarge the living room, add a bedroom, replace the deck or put on a new roof, most folks want to jump in and get ’er done. Unfortunately, too often, they jump in without a written plan or the management tools to ensure success.

We’ve overseen many such projects over the years and have some advice we’d like to share about reducing risk by using written scopes of work, hiring legitimate contractors, and using written contracts.

Grays Harbor has plenty of solid, talented and trustworthy builders. However, we do hear evidence of others who are neither trustworthy nor competent. If you hire the wrong person or company you can risk losing your money, precious construction time, and sometimes even your house when things go really wrong.

Licensed, bonded, insured

For some this might seem basic, but we would be remiss if we didn’t say it again: When hiring contractors always check that their license, bond and insurance are valid and in force. It is important for your safety and for theirs. You can call Labor and Industries at 360-533-8200 to check on a contractor’s credentials or go to the L&I website to check online. Ask each contractor you are thinking of using for their most current license and bond information, then verify through L&I with a simple call.

Create a scope of work

Before entering into a bidding process, what you are asking the bidding contractors to do needs to be clear, preferably in writing. What isn’t stated in writing is usually where the problems begin.

Even simple projects, whether prepping and installing a new floor or installing a new bathtub, have logical steps and responsibilities that should be included on each bidder’s proposal because you gave them the same scope of work with the language.

Let’s use a simple “scope of work” for installing flooring as an example:

• Bid to include: All taxes, fees and required permits; demolition and proper disposal of existing flooring and all related debris; removal and replacement of damaged or unsound subfloor when exposed as needed to warrant floor installation; purchase and transportation of Abby Carpet #010122 flooring chosen by owner; all required labor and materials to install flooring to manufacturer’s specifications; a clean, swept or vacuumed jobsite.”

• Owner to: Remove all furniture and breakables prior to floor installation; touch-up paint wall surfaces scuffed due to installation; reset furniture.

This is a simple and clearly written understanding of who does what.

For more complex jobs, such as adding a room or fixing a foundation, you should develop a more detailed scope of work. It should outline exactly what you want done. Even the materials and name brands you want used, quality, colors/sheens and texture choices, etc., should all be spelled out clearly.

Getting code handouts and permit advice from your building department can help you understand what the contractor must do to meet code requirements. It will also familiarize you with the terms used when describing the work and defining the finished product.

Use whatever it takes to convey your dream project: drawings, pictures or full-blown prints. Do you need a designer or architect to best convey your dream project? They can save everyone involved a lot of headaches and maybe keep the project on time and in budget.

Once you are in control of the “what I want built” part, you will have something that each contractor can bid upon equally — meaning they have the same description and specifications, time constraints and conditions. (That’s much better than you describing your vision for the project to each contractor, where you might forget to say something or they may not hear what you did say!)

Ideally, you will want to secure two or three qualified bids, but maybe you already have a great history and satisfaction level with a contractor and only need the one.

In most cases, having a bid due date will weed out the casual bidder and show the others you are serious.

Hopefully all competitive bids will come within 10% to 20% of each other. This usually means the scope of work was clear and that you represented yourself and your project the same to each contractor. Now you are ready to make your choice.

Should low bidder always win?

The lowest bid isn’t always the best choice. The timing of the work, the best job referrals, the most complete, detailed and organized bid, willingness to work without a cash deposit, cost per man-hour for finding unknowable (hidden from sight) damage, and even your first impressions and inner comfort with a contractor are a few of the criteria you might use to make your best choice.

We like contractors that provide and use a written contract that protects both parties.

Contracts key to success

Successful working relationships with most contractors are usually determined by being well-prepared. That means good plans, a realistic and fully funded budget, and mutual respect.

But even after a great plan and solid financing, the best of the legal glue that binds a well-intentioned contractor to the job is a detailed scope of work and a rock-solid written contract. That contract should at least describe what is going to happen, for how much, when and how long it will take and what will happen when either party fails to perform to the contract.

Some projects are so complicated and expensive they warrant legal help to create a proper contract. We believe an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. A good contract attorney or architect can be very helpful toward providing preventative management practices and can increase the chances for a successful project for both parties.

Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is executive director. This is a nonprofit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing for all residents of Grays Harbor County. For questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or buying, call 360-533-7828 or visit 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen. Our office is fully ADA-compliant.