Depending on how big or complex the project is, you might hire a:
General contractor, who manages all aspects of a project, including hiring and supervising subcontractors, getting building permits, and scheduling inspections.
Specialty contractor, who installs particular products like cabinets and bathroom fixture.
Architect, who designs homes, additions, and major renovations - especially ones involving structural change.
Designer or design/build contractor, who provides both services.
Do your Research
Start with your friends, family, neighbours or co-workers You can also talk with a building inspector, they'll know which contractors routinely meet code requirements.
You can pay a visit to your local lumberyard, which sees contractors regularly and knows which ones buy quality materials and pay their bills on time.
Look at sites you trust that post ratings and reviews, Do people seem to have similar experiences, good or bad?
You also can check out a contractor’s online reputation by searching for the company’s name with words like “scam,” “rip-off,” or “complaint.”
Look for an established company whose record and reputation you can check out.
Check for qualifications, like licensing. Check with your local building department to find out about licensing requirements in your area. Licensing can range from simple registration to a detailed qualification process. If your locality has licensing laws, make sure the contractor’s license is current.
Before You Hire a Contractor
Once you’ve narrowed your options, get written estimates from several contractors. A conscientious contractor will want not only a complete set of blueprints unless he’s supplied them, but would also like to get sense of what you want out of a project and what you plan to spend.
To compare bids, ask for a break down the cost of materials, labor, profit margins and other expenses.
Generally materials account for 40 percent of the total cost; the rest covers overhead and the typical profit margin, which is 15 to 20 percent.
The most important factor in choosing a contractor is how well you and he communicate and your gut feeling.
It's better to spend more and get someone you're comfortable with and not go the lowest bid which in some circumstances could turn in to a nightmare instead.
Questions to ask contractors
Do they take on projects of this size. How many projects like these have they completed?
Ask for a list so you can see how familiar the contractor is with your type of project.
Most municipalities require permits for building projects, even for simple jobs like decks. A competent contractor will get all the necessary permits before starting work on your project.
Ask for references?
A contractor should be able to give you names, addresses, and phone numbers of at least three clients with projects like yours. Talk to each client- Ask was the client satisfied. Age/Length of the project was it completed on time? Were there any unexpected costs? Did workers show up on time and clean up after finishing the project? You also could also ask to visit current jobsites in progress.
Will they be using subcontractors on this project and how long have they work with them?
If so, make sure the subcontractors have current insurance coverage and licenses, too, if required.
It also speaks volumes about how the contractor treats and pays his subs.
How many other projects do they have going on at the same time?
This will reveal the company's availability, reliability, and attention they'll be able to give your project an idea of how smoothly the project will progress.
What types of insurance do they carry? Contractors should have:
Property damage coverage.
Ask for copies of insurance certificates, and make sure they’re current,or you could be held liable for any injuries and damages that occur during the project.
Don’t pay cash for smaller projects; you can pay by check or credit card.
Try to limit your down payment
For large projects
Try to make payments during the project contingent upon completion of defined amounts of work as stated in the contract. This way, if the work isn’t going according to schedule, the payments to your contractor also are delayed.
A schedule usually starts with 10 percent at contract signing, three payments of 25 percent evenly spaced over the duration of the project and a check for the final 15 percent when you feel every item on the list has been completed
Get a Written Contract
Insisting on a clear contract isn't about mistrust, It's about insuring a successful working relationship. It should be clear and concise and include the who, what, where, when, and cost of your project.
Before you sign a contract, make sure it includes:
The contractor’s name, address, phone, and license number (if required)
An estimated start and completion date, the payment schedule for the contractor, subcontractors, and suppliers.
The contractor’s obligation to get all necessary permits.
How change orders are handled. A change order is a written authorization to the contractor to make a change or addition to the work described in the original contract, and could affect the project’s cost and schedule.
A detailed list of all materials including each product’s color, model, size, and brand.If some materials will be chosen later, the contract should say who’s responsible for choosing each item and how much money is budgeted for it (this is also known as the “allowance”).
Information about warranties covering materials and workmanship, with names and addresses of who is honoring them - the contractor, distributor, or manufacturer. The length of the warranty period and any limitations also should be spelled out.
What the contractor will and won’t do. For example, is site clean-up and trash hauling included in the price? Ask for a "broom clause" that makes the contractor responsible for all clean-up work, including spills and stains.
Any promises made during conversations or calls. If they don’t remember, you may be out of luck - or charged extra.
A written statement of your right to cancel the contract within three business days