Interviewing Home Construction Contractors

How to Hire the Right Contractor for Your Home Construction Project

By Mark J. Donovan

If you are planning to build a new custom home or home addition you will need to interview home construction contractors. Interviewing home construction contractors can be an awkward and uncomfortable experience.

Between you knowing very little about the home construction industry, and the contractor promoting himself as the end-all and be-all of home construction, you can feel worlds apart during the interview process.

With some upfront research and planning on your part, however, you can make the process of interviewing home construction contractors much easier. From my experience there are three stages in interviewing home construction contractors.

Interviewing Home Construction Contractors – Phase One

The first stage is simply phoning the home construction contractor and scheduling a time to meet to go over you house plans. During that first phone conversation you should be able to get some sense of who you are dealing with based simply on the initial introductions, the tone of the conversation and the questions being asked by the construction contractor. During this initial discussion / interview you should also be able to get some sense of how interested the contractor is in your project based on his level of questioning. For example, you should expect to hear questions such as (1) what type of home, or home addition are you looking to build, (2) do you have a set of plans already, and (3) what is your timeline for construction.  If these types of questions are not being asked this should be a red warning flag that the home construction contractor’s level of interest may be weak.

Interviewing Home Construction Contractors – Phase Two

The second stage of interviewing home construction contractors involves sitting down with the contractor and going over you house plans. As I have already alluded to, it is important to have as complete a set of house plans as possible. By doing so, you can ensure a productive meeting with your prospective contractor.

Home Addition Bid Sheets

During the interview you should carefully go over the house plans and any other specifications to the home you may have.

While going over the plans listen carefully to the questions and statements being made by the contractor. If there is push back on your plans, or alternative solutions being suggested, evaluate them for being constructive or not.

In addition to reviewing your house plans with the potential contractor, make sure to ask about his history in the home construction business. For example, ask him how long he has been in the business and working under the current corporation name. If either are short periods, this should raise a flag in your mind.

Also ask about references. If the home construction contractor is worth his salt, and is serious about working on your project, he should have brought with him for the interview photographs and references of his previous home construction projects. Pay attention to the timeline of the home construction projects shown to you. Ideally you want to hire a home construction contractor that has been around for several years and has examples of his past and recent work. Ask the contractor if he is comfortable with you calling any of his references. Also see if he has a list of other contractors, subcontractors and building material supply houses he has worked with that you can call for references.

Also make sure to ask about the contractor’s availability and timeline for working on your project to determine if it is consistent with your plans.

Finally, find out if the contractor is licensed, insured and affiliated with any professional home building organizations. If he is lacking in any one of these areas this again should be a red flag.

Interviewing Home Construction Contractors

Interviewing Home Construction Contractors – Phase Three

The final phase in the process of interviewing home construction contractors is reviewing the contractor bids.

Each contractor that bids on your home construction project should sit down with you and carefully go over their bid. The more comprehensive the bid the more likely it will be accurate, so shy away from the home construction contractors offering you a one page bid for building a home. Building a custom home, or even a home addition, are large projects with many details. If the contractor fails to provide you with a detailed construction bid then move on to another contractor for your project.

Make sure the new home construction bid includes a full cost breakdown for every major phase of the construction project and that if subcontractors are going to be used their names and contact information is included.

Also make sure that the construction bid includes a detailed project schedule that is broken down for each phase of the project.

In addition, make sure there is a complete building material list submitted in the bid and that materials being used are consistent with your house plans.

Finally, make sure there are no cost allowances included in the bid for such items as cabinetry, lighting, and landscaping to name just a few possibilities.

Your house plans should clearly specify these types of items so that cost allowances are not needed in the quote. I have found over the years that cost allowances just set the homeowner and contractor up for disappointments and heated debates.

To help in obtaining accurate and consistent home construction contractor bids, see my New Home Construction and Home Addition Bid Sheets. Each bid sheet includes a separate request for quote section that you can provide to prospective home building contractors. They also include a comprehensive cost breakdown table, in Microsoft Excel format, that allows the home construction contractor to include his projected home construction costs for every phase of the project.

So with these simple tips on interviewing home construction contractors, you should be able to sift the wheat from the chaff and find the right home building contractor for your home construction project.

For a more comprehensive new home construction checklist, see my New Home Construction Bid Sheet. The New Home Construction Bid Sheet provides a request for quote checklist section that you can provide to prospective building contractors. It also includes a comprehensive new home construction cost breakdown table, in Microsoft Excel format, that allows the contractor to include his projected new home construction costs for every phase of the project.

New Home Construction Bid Sheet

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