Is there something especially difficult about finding a reliable contractor? I’ve had people come to me expressing so much fear about getting it right. And I’ve heard the horror stories, just as you have.

Are you, as a homeowner, hopelessly at the mercy of unscrupulous contractors?

Actually, my answer is no...resoundingly, no! There are specific steps you can take to ensure that you and your contractor become a ‘perfect’ match.

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What do I mean by perfect? Wouldn’t that be someone who will:

  • Sit down with you and really listen to your needs (whether it is the builder or a representative)?
  • Give you a schedule and then do his or her best to meet it?
  • Let you know in a timely fashion if there will be unexpected delays?
  • Let you know in a timely fashion if change-orders or cost overruns are threatening your budget?
  • Provide regular supervision over the subcontractors and convey your concerns and changes to them in a timely manner?
  • Convey a genuine interest in your job, both to you and to the workmen?

But you must also play your part. You must start by becoming quite clear about what you want. How thorough has your design process been? Do you have a set of plans that you believe in -- before you first meet with the contractor? If you are remodeling, have you prepared yourself, your family and the yard for the inconveniences ahead? These are aspects of the job that only you can do, and if they haven’t been done, you can hardly blame the contractor for the misunderstandings that may result.

In this regard, please consider taking these steps:

  • Hire a professional designer to help you review the way you live and carefully plan the changes you wish to make. A coherent design derives from coordinating all functions of a house and not just plugging in a number of attractive features.
  • Learn about the different types of builders/contractors who are available in your area and then choose among the ones who are the right size, have the right skill level, or share the right combination of knowledge and experience.
  • Decide what is most important to your project (such as green construction, attention to finish detailing, a particular style or historic look) and then find out who has a reputation for that type of work.

Then, when you are ready, relax in the knowledge that you don’t live in a vacuum. The local builders and contractors all have reputations for quality and these can be uncovered by:

  • Looking through the membership of a professional builder’s organization such as NARI or the Homebuilders Association.
  • Consulting one of the web lists (such as Angie’s List) and reading homeowner reviews.
  • Asking family, friends or members of your church or synagogue (but make sure the people they’ve loved working with are the kind of builder you’re actually looking for).
  • Interviewing potential contractors with a specific set of plans in hand and then assessing how helpful and informative they have been.
  • Visiting jobsites to see for yourself how the workmanship, the teamwork within the crew, and the overall quality live up to reputation.

And here are a few cautions about what not to do:

  • Don’t be overly bedazzled by a fancy showroom. These present the finishing touches, not the substance of a house. Avoid seeing your house as just a collection of wonderful features.
  • Unless your needs are extremely simple, don’t let your builder design the house or addition that will become your new home. Rely on your contractor for the kind of work he does best and that is rarely design!

You can inspire a great working relationship with your builder if you are clear about what you want and well prepared to work with him throughout the process.