Protect Your Investment: Tips for Hiring a Contractor
Board members for community or condo associations understand the importance of finding the best contractors to complete jobs and projects. Finding the right one can be difficult. What should you look for? How do you get started? Before you start your next project, check out our 8 tips for hiring a contractor.
Tip #1. Define your project requirements
The first step to finding and hiring a good contractor for your project is to define your requirements. Start by making a clear and concise list of what you want to accomplish. Include the scope, timeline, budget, and any other project needs. Defining your requirements will help ensure that all parties involved understand your goals and objectives.
“A well-defined project with clearly stated requirements helps to mitigate the risk of misunderstandings, conflicts, and disputes between you and your contractor,” according to Dante Chiabra, vice president at FirstService Residential. “It provides a solid framework for project management, ensuring that progress is tracked, milestones are met, and potential issues are addressed before they become major problems.”
Tip #2. Get recommendations of reputable contractors
The second tip for hiring a contractor is to ask someone you trust for a recommendation. They can attest to the contractor's punctuality, work ethic, and dependability and help you narrow the list of choices.
"It’s important to hire a reputable contractor to ensure the success and quality of your project,” said Katharine Effron, vice president at FirstService Residential. “Ask the trusted sources in your circle, such as friends or industry professionals, with no vested interest in promoting a particular contractor. This can lead to a smoother and more successful project outcome, saving you time, money, and potential headaches."
Tip #3. Ask questions and do your research
The best way to make an informed decision when hiring a contractor is to gather as much information about them as possible. Create a list of questions to discuss. Ask what experience the candidates have with this type of project. What is their estimated completion timeline. Ask questions to help ensure the contractor’s background aligns with your expectations and clarifies any specific deadlines you may have. You’ll also want to ask how project changes and unexpected issues are handled. Find out who will work on the project. Determine if the contractor will use subcontractors or have a dedicated team. And if there will be subcontractors, ask about their qualifications and insurance coverage. Are permits required? If so, who obtains them? How are payments handled? These are just a few important questions you’ll want answers to before making a hiring decision.
Are you interested in learning about updated Florida legislation and contractor-related laws? Read: 2023 Florida Legislative Session: New and Updated Laws Impacting Community Associations
Tip #4. Get at least 3 proposals
Utilizing the bidding process is the fourth tip for hiring a contractor. This is essential. It promotes transparency and fairness in contractor selection, preventing favoritism, biases, or unfair practices and fostering a level playing field.
During this process, candidates submit proposals outlining their pricing structure. Bids often also include detailed information about contractors' qualifications, experience, and past work, so you can determine if they have the necessary skills and expertise to complete the project successfully. With multiple bids, you can evaluate the financial feasibility of different options and choose the one that aligns with your budget.
When obtaining bids, be aware of desperate contractors who only want money. If the bid seems too low, ask why. Sometimes the price does not indicate a good deal but means the contractor will use low-grade materials and unskilled labor.
Tip #5. Check references
Ask the candidates for references from past clients to provide invaluable insight into the contractor's quality of work. Past customers can tell you about the contractor’s reliability, attention to detail and communication skills. Communication skills are critical to a successful project, as clear and frequent communication between your board and the contractor is vital.
Tip #6. Ensure the contractor is licensed, bonded, and insured
You may have heard these three terms before, but what do they mean, and why are they important?
- Being licensed means that you have the necessary competence, meet minimum requirements, and are permitted to conduct business in your state, and sometimes local municipalities as well. For example, in Florida, certain types of contractors must pass the state licensing examination.
- When a contractor is bonded, it means its customers are protected from losses they may suffer by a surety or bonding company. This is if the contractor does not fulfill its contractual obligations, similar to a guarantee.
- Lastly, when a contractor is insured, it has coverage designed to protect it and its customers from financial losses and liabilities resulting from various unforeseen circumstances, including the contractor’s actions. This includes damaging a customer’s property or causing personal injury, which provides a safety net for the contractor and the customer.
Hiring a licensed, bonded and insured contractor will give your association peace of mind that it will be protected in the event issues arise after the work gets off the ground. Involve your association’s legal counsel when determining if a contractor has the licensing, bonding and insurance coverage your community needs for the project.
Listen to our podcast, Get on Board: Capital Projects Demystified, to learn how one of our communities took a unique approach to managing capital improvement projects.
Tip #7. Get it in writing
The seventh tip for hiring a contractor is to get it in writing. Putting the project in writing (in a contract both parties will sign) ensures that you and the contractor clearly understand the project’s scope, requirements, and expectations. This will help prevent misunderstandings and allow both parties to be on the same page regarding what needs to be done, by when, and at what cost. The contract should outline the project's terms and conditions, including the timeline, payment schedule, materials, warranties, and other relevant details. Having these details in writing protects both parties and provides a reference point in case of disputes or disagreements. And, of course, have all agreements and contracts reviewed by your association's legal counsel before signing on the dotted line.
Tip #8. Trust your instincts
Trust your gut feelings. If something doesn't feel right or you doubt a contractor’s ability to deliver quality work, continue your search. A contractor who instills confidence and trust will give you peace of mind.
A good contractor understands your community's vision, provides quality service, and executes good work on time and on budget. A bit of homework and research upfront will save you time, effort, money and headaches in the long run. For additional tips on hiring a contractor or more information, contact FirstService Residential.