Site Plan and 3Ds of house, Sheet A-1

So, you’ve got a set of construction documents for the house/addition/remodel of your dreams.  Up to now, you’ve been paying out money for a wisp, an idea.  Its really going to start happening! 

 But first you need to hire a contractor.

You’ve heard the rumors, you know a friend of a friend of a cousin who was burned by their contractor, took the money and left, put in substandard products, cut corners every which way. 

 The movie ‘Money Pit’ (1986) with Tom Hanks, Shelly Long and Alexander Godunov (I probably didn’t need to mention Alexander G but I really liked him…) is a hilarious and sad-but-true commentary of what can happen if you don’t vett your contractor very well. 

Required viewing!!!

 Its good to be wary, if that caution leads you to doing due diligence. 

 The success of any construction project hinges on a capable contractor. 

 You’ll be getting bids on your project, but the cheapest guy doesn’t always win.  We’ve had clients receive bids from 4 contractors.  3 were all within a few thousand dollars of each other, maybe within 5% of each other.  The other was waaay below that, about 15% less than the lowest of the other 3.  What would you do?  Take that bid?  Run, run away…well, maybe I’m kidding…maybe.  However do NOT sign on the dotted line without checking the bid over VERY carefully, item by item.  Have the contract read by an attorney.  Why is it so much lower?  Did that contractor miss something in the project?  What is the difference between that bid and the others?  Something is weird, what is it?

Look at the bid process as an interview.  You want to hire a contractor with whom you ’click’.    You will be married to this person for the duration of the project.  In your home at 7am, you’ll have his number on your speed dial.  You are interviewing the contractor and the contractor is interviewing you, too – subject for another post.

 (oh, while I’m thinking about it…DO NOT GO ON VACATION DURING YOUR CONSTRUCTION PROJECT!!!  …more on that in a minute…)

 Yes, price definitely has something to do with it.  Everyone is on a budget and everyone wants to get the best value possible for their money.  But, and this is a very BIG but, the value you seek is in the service delivered, not the product.

I can't imagine why anyone thought this was OK to do.


If you hire the cheapest contractor without properly checking his references and bid, you will pay for it in frustration and probably in nickel-and-diming-you-to-death change orders.

Does the contractor have referrals where you can actually see the work that was performed?  Not just a verbal reference, can you tour a house or two or three?

Here is a link to the Contractors State License Board  Make sure the contractor has a valid license.  This site also provides information on License Classification, Bonding, Worker’s Compensation Insurance and any complaints against them. 

10 TIPS for hiring a contractor from

Get to know the contractor.  Is this a person you can trust with this large amount of money?  Will the job be performed quickly, efficiently and neatly?  What is his/her attitude regarding working with the City and the Architect?  You want someone who doesn’t point fingers but works to resolve any issues, with no badmouthing.  Someone who is relaxed, easygoing and has good past experience with Building Inspectors, Architects and Engineers.

On HOMETEC Architecture projects, if a client has hired a contractor we haven’t worked with before, we ask for a meeting with the contractor to go over the drawings, framing plans and details so we can get to know each other. 

Not a good fit...

 Many Architects aren’t familiar with the nitty gritty of framing a house.  But Rick is also a contractor and it’s important that our client’s contractor understand that he’s familiar with wood frame construction.   That way, if a problem arises on the job, s/he is much more likely to call us to talk about solutions.

 If a contractor refuses to call and ‘solves’ the problem on his own, its possible that the solution will ‘fail’ during City inspection.  So a small problem frequently becomes a large one.  Simple communication between us all is important.

 We actually phase our projects so that clients get estimates when they are happy with the design.  After they’ve confirmed the project is within their budget, then we move forward with construction documents.  The nice thing about this is that the client has begun developing a relationship with contractors.  It’s a sifting process, not a ‘last one standing’ contest.

Here’s a list of questions we give to every potential client:

 Questions to ask before hiring a contractor

 Q:  How long have you been in business? 

A:   Experience can relate to the size of the job he’s best qualified to build.

 Q:  What types of jobs have you done? 

A:   You want lots of experience with your type of job.

 Q:   Do you have any references? 

A:   Get them and check them out!  Ask them:  How did the job turn out?  Was it done on or near schedule?  Why not?  How were problems handled?  How were the sub-contractors on the job?

 Q:   Will this job fit into your schedule?

A:    Does that dove-tail with your timeline?  If not, can something be worked out?

 Q:   Who will be in charge of the project?  Can I meet him/her?

A:   That person might not be assigned yet, but you do want to meet and feel comfortable with the person.

 Q:   What are your quality control procedures?

A:   A 3-tiered system of quality control is common.  First is the foreman or lead carpenter who is on-site during almost all of the construction.  Next is the Project Manager who should visit your job at least once a week.  Then, the owner of the firm, who must be familiar with your project and available if you have a question or concern that needs top management attention.

 Q:  What if the product(s) I specify are not available?

A:   The full-service contractor will notify you ASAP and work with you to find an acceptable alternative with minimum delay.  We recommend that many of our clients purchase some of their own products because then they can take advantage of sales.  If you find a different flooring product you like better (cheaper? better color?) from another supplier, then YOU can take advantage of it.  But, if you’ve told the contractor that you want LG appliances, then you find a great deal on Maytag, if he’s already purchased the LGs, then too bad for you! 

 Q:  Can construction begin before all items are specified?

A:   You might get into trouble trying to begin the project too quickly.  There’s nothing worse than having to wait 6 week for a fixture or part after your bath or kitchen has already been demolished.  You are going to experience delays as a natural part of the project – get used to waiting, then rushing, then waiting, then rushing.

 Q:   How do you expect to be paid and what are your billing procedures?

A:    By law, a contractor can ask for a down payment of either $1000 or 10% of the total cost of the job, whichever is LESS.  After that, billing may be on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly schedule and should be for work already completed.  NEVER pay for more work than is already done.  Some contractors will have a ‘retention’ system, where a small percentage (5%-10%) or your current bill is held back (retained) by you as protection against unfinished or improperly done work.

 If you have a construction loan, the bank will want copies of invoices, so make sure your contractor and/or his subs are able to provide them.

 Q:  What are the risks of changing my mind on a project detail after the project has started?

A:   A contractor will provide his change order and extra policies info at this point, which should match his contract.  To keep everyone worry free, all changes and extras should be priced out in writing before the work is performed.

 Changes to a project can have a domino effect, overall.  One contractor suggested a change to the client, got them all excited about some extra feature – like changing a window to a door, moving a door or adding a balcony or enclosing a porch.  That change meant having to get a revised T24 Energy Report, structural engineering change AND going back to the City to get approval of the change!  Contractors who haven’t been involved in the design process, sitting with you and your Architect meeting after meeting, should NOT be making design changes!  I’m just sayin’…

 Q:  What do you enjoy most in a remodeling project?

A:   Listen for things like ‘satisfaction of a job well done’, ‘happy clients’, ‘love building homes’.  Run from any contractor who says ‘the money’!

 Q:  When can I expect your estimate/bid?

A:   You might want this information yesterday, but be wary of a hastily provided quote.  In the long run, you will benefit from a carefully calculated bid, which can take 1 to 4 weeks, depending on the complexity of the job.

 Q:  Can I use my own subcontractor or supply my own material?

A:   Hmmm, there’s no right answer to this, but you will get a sense of how accommodating the contractor will be.  AND, will there be any changes in his/her warranty as a result of using your own subs or materials?

 We had one client who wanted to do his own demolition of the areas being remodeled.  OK, the contractor said, with reservations.  When the contractor came back on the job, the homeowner had demolished too much!  And got upset when the contractor said it would be a change order to fix it. 

 Q:  Why should I hire you?

A:   You want someone who is confident but not arrogant.  Will you and your family’s needs be considered during construction (tarping off the construction area from the rest of the house, cleaning up the jobsite at the end of the day, conforming to local ordinances about hours of operation and green building practices)?   

 During our project, the concrete supplier violated the City’s rules about when a project can begin and how long a truck can sit with the engine running.

 Now, I can understand that the concrete has to be continually rotated in its barrel, but the truck sat outside our neighbor’s house for 30 minutes while waiting to unload.   And this is something they do all the time, deliver concrete, so they should know the rules.  They could also wait in a store parking lot – there were plenty large ones about 2 blocks away – and then show up at 7am for the delivery.

 Our neighbors were quite peeved and very vocal about it.  And I don’t blame them.

 If this happens to you, you can be cited and have to pay a fine (YOU, not the truck driver, it’s YOUR project).


Where are all those pipes going? But, you'll notice that there is 'earthquake strapping'...good.

 And now, back to the subject of “Going on vacation during your project”.  A few days are OK.  3 months is NOT OK.  One time our clients were gone for 3 months!  Anytime a product wasn’t available, they weren’t there to pick a new one.  You think this doesn’t happen?  In a previous post I wrote about choosing paint colors that were a color match and the formula changed in the middle of the project?  Well, what if you’ve specified a particular paint (because Planning wanted to know 9 months ago what color you were going to paint your house and that’s the color they approved) but now, its not on Kelly-Moore’s (or Behr’s or Dunn-Edwards or whichever) list and you have to pick a new color.

 Or, the cabinets came in and you ordered the wrong size broom closet…will you live with it (and have to buy a different microwave or lose your ‘message center’) or what?

 Or, the electrical contractor wants a walk-through with you to make sure of heights of light switches and where should the bathroom wall lights be placed and where should the pendants for the kitchen island be?  More towards this direction?  More towards that direction? 

Careful, don't startle him!

  Use your head….you are a contributing factor to the success of your project. 

And don’t forget to have fun 😉

Thanks to and for most of the pictures…