The Complete Guide for Hiring a Contractor

[caption id="attachment_22" align="alignright" width="166" caption="Choose Your Contractor"]Choose the right contractor to build your composite deck

A lot of homeowners aren't too excited when the time comes to hire a contractor, but the decision making process doesn't have to be as challenging as it seems.

When picking a contractor there are several things to consider. First and foremost, people embellish, so it's up to us as consumers to do our homework. Next, you need to identify some contractors. There are several ways to get a contractor's name: word of mouth, the phone book, local chamber of commerce, and the Internet, to name a few. Personally, I'm a fan of using the Internet. Most decking manufacturers have tools on their website to help you find a local builder.

When using the Internet, I recommend typing a generic term and then your city and state, such as "composite decks Denver CO" in a search engine, like Google. This search will return a myriad of deck builders and lumber suppliers in your local area. I would look at the first five or 10. Do they have websites? If so, are the websites professional and up to date? While a good website is important, it's not everything.

Obviously, you're going to want to call them. Does the contractor or a secretary answer? Do they answer professionally or do they say, "Yeah, hello." If you get their voicemail, does it say something like, "Yo, what up leave, a message," or "Hi you've reached Jim, Sally, Billy, Jerry & ABC Construction. Leave a message?" All of these things will immediately give you an idea of whether the contractor takes their business seriously and is professional.

Now you've narrowed down the original list from 10 to four. It's now time to set up the initial appointment. Before you do this you should have already determined certain information, like a basic design or idea of what you want, your budget and your timing.

It's also important to have reasonable expectations. What I mean is, you wouldn't expect a contractor to show up to the appointment in a suit. On the same hand, if a contractor shows up reeking of beer, I would steer clear. Also, if you get three bids that are all around $12,000, and the fourth guy comes in at $7,000, the mental sirens should start blaring.

So now you have some bids. It's important to review them all and make sure you're comparing apples to apples. Is one contractor bidding redwood and the other bidding composite? Are things like, "tear down" and "trash haul away," specified? Is the bid detailed and spelled out, or does it just say, "build deck = $12,000."

Ask the contractor for pictures and references, and actually follow up on them. Ask the reference, if they had to do it over again, would they still choose that contractor?

Two things that are incredibly important are to specify a start and an end date and to pull a permit. Specifying a start and an end date will ensure all parties are aware of expectations and ensure the job does not drag on, and on, and on. Pulling a permit is necessary, and it's the law.

Do not allow someone to talk you out of pulling a permit. Yes, they are an added cost, and, yes, you might be able to slide under the radar. However, the building inspector is there to make sure the deck is built to code. They understand the code inside and out, and are there to make sure the contractor is building according to such. It could be a matter of life and death. There are numerous horror stories about decks not being properly secured to the house, collapsing and killing someone. Pull a permit.

Overall, there are several things to consider when choosing a contractor. Here is a quick list for you to reference:

  • Have an idea of what you want
  • Know your budget
  • Research decking materials
  • Call at least 10 local contractors
  • Narrow your list of contractors to three or four
  • Set appointments
  • Ask for references
  • Follow up on the references
  • Thoroughly review and compare all bids
  • Make sure the contract is detailed and specific
  • Make sure there is a start and an end date
  • Pull a permit
  • Enjoy your deck

Have any other tips to offer homeowners? Let us know in the comments section of this post.

  • Good article Scott.

    Additional considerations are: Be leery of 1/2 down payment schedules, this puts a large amount of money in the contractors hands before anything is even completed. Look for a contractor willing to have multiple payments at easily defined progress milestones. Example of milestones Completion of demo, Decking material onsite, Frame inspection complete, etc, etc. This is fair for both the contractor and the customer, it keeps everyone at about the same level at all times. In case anything happens to the contractor (accidents happen) you are not stuck with 10% complete after paying out 50% of the cost.

    I would again like to emphasize the importance of talking to the references provided and visiting the projects and view the quality first hand.

    -Robert Shaw
    Colorado Deck and Framing

  • Another very bid thing that needs to be on your list is to make sure they are licensed and insured. It is very important that you are covered by their insurance and that they are following the law.

  • Make sure when Complete build/remodeling project is in course Plans and specifications cover all the Building codes.
    Do not Trust contractor because many years of experience. My contractor exclude mandatory Codes from a big
    Change of Use project and City Officials do not carry liabilities when Building code Violation occurs. Plans and Specifications
    might be Free of Code Violation because exclusion of Building Codes Happen. Those circumstances property owners are
    at risk and monetary loses Fixing those Violated Codes for Environmental and sHealth Related. Design/Build Contractors; watch out:
    contractors are big ripped offs.Hired your Own Engineers and avoid Contractor referred by Engineers and Architects.