The Keys to Choosing a General Contractor: What Business Owners Need to Know

The Keys to Choosing a General Contractor

Hiring a contractor is the most important step a business owner will take when building a new facility or updating existing space. The key to hiring an efficient, trustworthy contractor lies in your ability to ask the right questions before you hire a contractor. Below are the top 12 questions you should ask when choosing a general contractor.

  • “May I have a written quotation with a breakdown of costs?” A written quotation is the single most important element of your contractor relationship. Your quote should clearly outline the costs of labor and materials, and should include an estimated timeframe for project completion.
  • “Approximately how long will the project take to complete?” Be sure to make a contractor aware of any urgent deadlines before signing a contract. Ask the contractor to provide an estimated project schedule in writing.
  • “How many years have you been in business?” Experience is critical in the contracting industry. In general, you should seek contractors with at least several years of proven industry experience. Be wary of new contractors with low-ball quotes – although an experienced company may seem more expensive at first glance, if you hire a contractor with little or no experience before you realize the cost over runs due to lack of experience would have cost you more.
  • “What kind of a reputation does this company have?” What does the industry have to say about the contractors you are considering? Good reputations go along way; ask associates or other possible references like dental/medical equipment supply companies.
  • “Will subcontractors be involved?” You should always find out who will be involved in your project. If possible, request a brief meeting with any key subcontractors.
  • “How do you hire and qualify your sub-contractors?” Subcontractors are a very important reflection of a contractor when being represented on their sites. Will subcontractors be professional in appearance and attitude or will they have poor communication ability and lack good customer service skills?
  • “What health and safety plans does your firm use to protect employees?” Safety considerations are critical when hiring a contractor. Make sure that your contractor and all workers have the necessary safety equipment and clothing to safely complete a job. Be sure to request a “Clearance Certificate” from WSIB showing that the company is in good standing.
  • “May I please have 3 references of customers in my area?” Do not just ask for references in your area. Make sure you reach out by phone and ask the customers to outline the strengths and weaknesses of the contractor under consideration.
  • “What are your payment terms?” Be sure to clarify payment arrangements before signing a contract. Besides modest deposits on signing (10% of project) or product deposits (30 – 50%), no money should ever be paid in advance. Insist on progress payments made on regular intervals (every 2 weeks) based on work completed or work in process BUT NEVER in advance of work. A contractor who asks to be paid in advance or same day is a contractor who is running his business hand to mouth and that’s a stressful liability that you don’t need.
  • “Is your business licensed and insured?” Choose a contractor that is licensed and insured in order to prevent potential legal troubles. Does your candidate have liability insurance? Today the minimum is five million dollars.
  • “Do you offer a Post Construction Warranty Service?” Having a contractor who continues to service their clients for years well after the construction is completed and the warranties have expired is a great sign of a strong client/contractor relationship. Having one point of contact for any service needs throughout your business years can prove to be comforting and rewarding for both you.
  • “Why should I choose you over other contractors?”  Give contractors the opportunity to tell you what gives them an edge over the competition. Be wary of contractors who are unable to provide any concrete details in their response. A contractor’s answer to this question will often help you finalize your hiring decision. Contact us to answer that question – we have GREAT answers!

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