Whether you are doing a remodel, addition, or weatherization of your existing home time and money or of the essence. New home construction is certainly on the decline in the Interior of Alaska so there are dozens of contractors to choose from. In a previous post I pasted the National Association of Home Builders checklist for choosing a contractor. However, over the last few months of talking to clients I feel that list can be refined a bit within Alaska.
Here are the 4 Steps to finding and hiring a general contractor in Alaska
1. Before you look for a contractor decide for yourself or with your partner what it is you need in your home. Make sketches if there are design preferences, flip through building or design magazines to get your brain on the subject, or even go look at materials. Home renovations are very involved and evolve over the course of the project. Getting a jump on ideas really smooths out the process.
2. The initial search for a contractor can be done in several ways.
- Word of mouth. The most common way my clients have chosen contractors. Ask a friend or family member about a contractor they have hired. Ask what work was completed for them and if they would hire that contractor again.
- Internet search. This tends to result in pages of results to choose from and is about as informative as the phone book. Though I have a website and a blog, some search terms find the sites and some don’t. One great aspect of searching on the web is looking for reviews. Yelp! is a free service that accepts reviews from verified sources and Angie’s List (recently arrived in Fairbanks) has a fee based membership that also verifies the source of claims for or against a contractor. You may also find reviews on Facebook pages. If you do use an internet search make sure you add the search terms “licensed,bonded, insured” to your search to immediately narrow your search!
- Home shows. I think that contractors that buy a booth at a home show are probably honest, licensed, and insured because they are putting themselves directly in the public eye. I am not sure how many folks choose a contractor this way. Anyone out there have an opinion on this?
3. The Call. Call a few contractors to “interview” them on the phone or in person. You should still talk out some details such as:
- Licensed, bonded, and insured. Make sure they are. A big, expensive project in your home could turn ugly if you don’t have a legitimate contractor.
- Estimate costs. Many estimates are free but once in the planning stage there needs to be a determination of where the free estimate ended and the project work started.
- Rates and mark-up. Most contractors have an hourly rate for themselves and crew. If your job requires licensed subcontractors find out about mark-up fees. Mark-ups are standard for subs and for materials. If you, the owner are going to get materials it needs to be discussed up front. Remember, if you buy the materials and something is not right, say window size, it is not the responsibility of the contractor and additional costs will fall onto you.
- Permits. Are they required? Who will obtain them?
- The lowest bidder. Don’t just shop for price. Shop for someone with a good reputation and who you communicate with comfortably.
That is a lot to ask to several contractors but if you do not have somewhere to start referral wise then this will be worth the effort. Regardless, these details should be determined before signing a legal contract with your chosen contractor.
4. The contract agreement checklist
- Your and the contractors names and addresses
- A detailed description of the work that is included as well as what is not included. Avoid misunderstandings.
- Start and completion dates
- Payment schedule (typically 50% down, 25% halfway, and the remainder at the end)
- Warranty. Do they have one and how long is it good for.
- Change of order clause. Big changes made after the start of the project delay your contractor from finishing on schedule, that’s why starting with a solid plan is a good idea. Change orders vary with project size. Ask your contractor.
- Failure of Payment. Many contracts also contain a clause that permits your contractor to place a lien on your home or property in the case of non-payment. Thought this is a typical clause you may want to inquire about non-payment.
I hope this list helps you find the right contractor for your project. Please feel free to leave comments or suggestions below.
Mike Knoche Owner/Operator
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