How to choose the right contractor

We believe that a successful project starts with education. If you don't know what to expect when hiring a contractor and beginning your project, chances are that unneeded complications will arise.

1. Write a plan

A plan means more than some gibberish written on the back of some scrap paper. Some small repairs may not require a formal written plan. Anything larger should have a formal plan that includes a timeline, materials to be used and drawings when appropriate. 

2. Be Responsive

When you first call for information or a quote you should get a live human being. Even if you get voice mail, someone should get back to you within 24 hours. If a builder isn't responsive before he has your money, what is it going to be like after they have the job?

Additionally, from time-to-time you may have an urgent need to reach your builder. Builders who care about that level of service will have emergency numbers, carry cell phones or have pagers. And when you use that emergency number, you should get a response within 1 hour.

Good communication, caring customer service and responsiveness can be the difference between getting what you expected and getting less than you bargained for.

3. True Pricing

The quoted price is important, but the PRICE you ultimately pay is what really counts. Your contractor should have a system for establishing the cost of your job. For more about CCI's system, see about pricing.

4. Make It Right

Finally, you want a contractor that you are reasonably sure will do the job right the first time. Nothing is worse than thinking the job is finished, the workmen are finally out of your home, you've paid the final bill, life is back to normal; then something doesn't work right. A piece of trim is missing, some detail is not quite right. Now, how do you get the company to come back? Do you even want them back?

CCI takes great care through planning and project management to get it right. But if we don't (it happens) we'll make it right and clean up when we leave. Additionally, CCI guarantees your job for 2 years instead the one-year most licensed contractors offer, or the no-guarantee of unlicensed guys.

 

15 Things You Need to Know Before Hiring a Contractor

In this segment we will cover 15 questions that are a must-know before hiring any contractor. For your convenience, we've also included our answers to every question!

1. Is the company licensed? What is the license number?

If your "contractor" is not licensed and something goes wrong, you may have very little recourse. Professional contractors are licensed by the State of California Contractor's Licensing Bureau. If something goes wrong on your job, you can file a complaint with the Licensing Bureau. Complaints are verified and inspected. Complaints found to be valid can result in fines, suspensions or loss of license to the offending contractor. If your "guy" doesn't have a license, he or she has nothing to lose.

Our Answer: Cecil Construction Inc.'s, (CCI) license number is 810498.

2. How long did it take the company to respond after your first call requesting information?

If you didn't get a response the same day or certainly within 24 hours, cross them off your list. If they are not responsive before they start the job, they won't be once they have your money.

Our Answer: Cecil Construction, Inc. (CCI) standards require that all calls, questions and inquires get a response the same day, time permitting, but in all cases within 24 hours.

3. Is the company insured for liability and workers compensation?

Law requires workers compensation insurance. If a company does not have Workers Compensation or cannot prove they do, cross them off your list. They are violating the law, which brings their honesty and integrity into question. Additionally, if a worker gets hurt on your job and there is no workers compensation in place, you may be held liable.

All contractors should have a minimum $1,000,000 general liability policy in place. If they don't and something happens on the job, guess what, you may be held liable.

Our Answer: CCI is fully insured for workers compensation and is covered for $2 million in general liability.

4. How long has the company been in business?

You want to know that if the workmanship doesn't hold up, the contractor will still be around to make it right. It doesn't take much to start a repair or contracting company. Companies that have been in business for 5 years or longer are more likely to be around next year. That is one of the reasons that insurers like AAA only work with contractors who have been in business 5 years or more.

Our Answer: Robert Cecil, President of CCI, has been a licensed general contractor since 1984.

5. Specifically, what kind of experience does the company have? Everybody says they have experience in "all phases of construction." Have they done your kind of job before?

"All phases of construction" is just a phrase. If your repair or remodel has several phases, i.e., construction, plumbing, electrical, painting, dry wall, etc. you not only want to know that the contractor has done all of this work before, but how often. If the company you are interviewing says they've done 1 or 2 or none, you might want to keep looking at other companies.

Our Answer: With over 300 jobs completed just last year CCI really does have experience in all phases of construction. We are happy to give you the specifics you need along with references.

6. Ask how they go about setting the price for jobs. What kind of standards do they use for pricing jobs? Do they use specific costing standards?

If you can't get a specific answer to this question, including specifically what standards they use, be leery.

Our Answer: CCI uses the same software estimating system that Farmers, State Farm, AAA and USAA homeowner's insurance companies require contractors to use for insurance repairs. The system helps the contractor look at each facet of your job and complete an accurate estimate based on pricing standards developed by insurance companies.

7. "Will I get an itemized quote?"

Without an itemized quote, you don't really know what the contractor plans to do. Without an itemized quote, it is easier to "underestimate" the job, resulting in unexpected expenses in order to get your work done. Additionally, itemized quotes make it much more difficult for unscrupulous companies to "pad" the quote.

Our Answer: CCI gives you an itemized quote, generated from the system, based on insurance industry standards, no matter what size the job is.

8. "When will I get the quote?"

Generally speaking, you should be able to get a quote in 5 days of the estimator's initial survey. Of course more complex projects, like building an entire house, will take longer. But you want the job completed and completed on time. If the company claims to be professional and experienced, but can't turn an itemized quote within a few days, how long will it take them to do the actual work?

Our Answer: The CCI standard is 5 days or less for a complete quote.

9. "When will you start the job?"

The company may meet all of your other requirements, but lots of good companies are very busy. If you don't ask, you won't know.

Our Answer: CCI starts most jobs within 48 hours of your signed authorization to do the work.

10. "When will you finish the job?"

This question is even more important than #9. After all, what you really want is to get the work completed so you can get your life back to normal and start enjoying your new room or project. Of course, certain things arise that can delay work. Your builder should review these contingencies with you before you sign the contract. That will help to minimize unpleasant surprises.

Our Answer: CCI has a project manager assigned to each job. His job is to get your job finished on time. The Project Manager communicates with you at the beginning of your project, at the end of your project and as often as appropriate during the project. If we are behind for any reason, we will discuss what we might do to get back on track.

11. "Do you guarantee the work?"

Most ethical contractors will guarantee the workmanship for 1 year. But if the company is not licensed, or if the company goes out of business, your guarantee is not worth anything.

Our Answer: By the way, CCI guarantees the workmanship for 2 years.

12. "Will I get a specific time schedule?"

You want the time schedule to be as specific as possible on large or small projects. Ask the builder what they plan to do and when they plan to finish each piece of the puzzle. Then ask yourself if the description of what will be done makes sense compared to the time estimate they gave you.

Our Answer: CCI provides a time estimate on every project with the quote for the job.

13. "Will you explain the types of materials you are using and why?"

Sometimes less expensive but perfectly functional materials can be used to reduce your expense. Sometimes they can be used to simply increase the contractor's profit. You want to know that you are getting what you are paying for and that you are not paying any more than you have to. In other situations, room additions and remodels in particular, you simply may not be aware of all of the options. Contractors have options that may allow you to get more for your money just by asking the right questions.

Our Answer: New building materials are coming to market all of the time. Frequently, we are aware of materials that might be more durable, lower in cost or more appealing than the same old stuff. We will review materials and options whenever it seems appropriate.

14. "What size is the company?"

You want to know that the company is stable and has enough employees and resources to finish your job once they start it. You want to know that they have the breadth of experience to do your specific kind of job. You want to know that they are not so big that you're just another number.

Our Answer: CCI is a medium size company, growing rapidly based on word-of-mouth. We employ a full range of experienced craftsmen (and women) and hire only CCI qualified subcontractors for special work. Due to our growth, we are constantly recruiting for additional crafts persons who meet our qualifications.

15. Ask for references.

You should be able to get references, and it would be nice to get references for the same type of work you need to have done. If the company is hesitant or if they can't produce references, be suspicious.

Our Answer: CCI will give you from 5 to 50 references on just about any job you have in mind.

About pricing a project

1. Systematic Pricing

Estimating the cost of a job is a science, not an art. Today training and tools are available to help eliminate the guess work in pricing a job. Software programs such as Xactimate are used to quantify the materials and time necessary to do the job. CCI estimators have years of building experience and up to 40 hours of specialized training for using Xactimate.

2. Watch out for bids that are too low.

If your bid comes in lower than you expect there could be several reasons:

  • Sometimes you have an inexperienced builder or one that doesn't use a system to cost a job. The result could be unexpected cost overruns that you have to pay for later to get the job done
  • Or perhaps the estimates include lower quality materials in an effort to cut the cost and win the job. The builder should be able explain why they are selecting certain materials and how they will impact the quality, appearance and even safety of your completed job
  • Also, watch out for unlicensed builders. They will explain all the reasons they don't need insurance or a bond. The bottom line is that you have no protection and no recourse with an unlicensed builder if the job goes bad or doesn't get finished at all
  • Finally, watch out for unscrupulous operators that intentionally bid lower than they know the job will cost and then run up your bill later due to “unexpected” additional costs. 

 3. Watch out for bids that are too high.

It seems obvious, but if a price seems out of line, get additional bids before you part with your hard earned cash.

Remodels and Room Additions 101

The very first step in a room addition or remodeling project is really 2 steps

We frequently get calls asking, "How much to do a room addition?" Of course, we have a very rough idea of cost per square foot, with the emphasis on rough. There are a lot of variables, not the least of which is the terrain in our area. But also materials, complexity of design and unique features, to name a few, come into the mix.

So here are a couple of things you should do whether you are going to try to do the work yourself or hire someone to do it.

1. Define the Scope of Work:

The first thing you need to be clear about is the Scope of Work. Writing out the scope will help to clarify in your mind what exactly you want to have done. Additionally, it will help you to identify or uncover things you might otherwise overlook. 

2. Take a cut at setting your Specifications:

The next thing to do is Specifications. They are the very specific details in the scope of work. Create a list of details about the project. Have a fun brainstorming session with your spouse, family or friends. Come up with as many details as possible and be as specific as you can. Let the ideas flow. You can organize it later. 

Here's an Example

Scope of Work:

Add a bedroom onto the back of the house

Specifications:

Extend the hallway to accommodate an entry for the new room. The doorway to the new room will be on the right side of the room. The room's right wall will be a common wall with the existing guest bedroom. There will be a French doors leading to a small deck off the back of the room. The left hand wall of the room will be a walk-in closet that extends the length of the room. The doors to the closet will be French louvered doors. The room, including closet doors will be white. The ceiling will have a decorative molding and there will be a lighted ceiling fan in the center of the room. Total clean up and haul away the trash.

If you can be more specific, all the better. However, don't think for one minute that this plan needs to be perfect and final. We will have questions, suggestions, recommendations and ideas. We want you to get exactly what you want, even if you don't know what you want. Try to nail down what your "must haves" are: French doors to the deck, and know what you can be flexible on: French doors to the closet.

With these details in place we can:

  • Be more accurate on our estimate
  • Find ways to help you save money
  • Get the job done faster
  • Give you what you want the first time with a minimum of changes

These same details can be extremely useful to an architect or designer if you plan to use one.

Additionally, many of the building sites here in the foothills will need structural engineering. If you think you might need an engineer, call us. We can talk to you about your site and recommend some firms that we have worked with successfully in the past.