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Choosing a General Contractor

Once you have decided to build a new garage, you will face another big decision. Who will be your builder? Though you may want to be your own general contractor and you are planning to do the majority of the work yourself, you may want to carefully consider this option a little further. Being your own general contractor is a not for everyone, so think about the extent of your knowledge of residential building and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have the time it takes to be a general contractor? Will it interfere with my job, family time and other daily activities?
  • Do I know what building permits will I need and how to obtain them?
  • Am I capable of handling legal forms and documents correctly?
  • Will I know how to complete and submit all legal documents on my own?
  • Can I do most of the work on my new garage or garage apartment myself?
  • Do I know what subcontractors and tradesmen I will need to hire?
  • Can I interpret and understand the bids and estimates submitted by subcontractors?
  • Do I have the knowledge to understand bids and estimates quoted by subcontractors?
  • Am I capable of hiring and monitoring the work of subcontractors?

Chances are, if you answered YES to most or all of these questions, you are probably well prepared to be your own general contractor. But, if you only answered YES to a few questions or none at all, it is a good idea to consider hiring a builder to oversee the construction of your new garage from start to finish. It is essential that you hire a capable and reputable builder that communicates well with you. Establish a strong and understanding relationship with your contractor in the beginning ensuring a smooth building process. This person will be responsible for overseeing that your garage is built properly, finished on schedule and completed on budget making the building experience stress-free and exciting for you.

Begin your quest for a reputable and qualified builder by talking with family members, friends and coworkers that have recently completed a building project such as a home or garage. If any of these people speak highly of the contractor they used, ask for contact information. Also, take advantage of the many are other resources available to help you with this task. Professionals at local lumberyards and home improvement centers work with contractors and subcontractors on a daily basis. Ask for recommendations. Also, the city/county building department or local home builders association will be able to recommend reputable residential contractors. If your state requires a licensed general contractor, check with the state licensing board for names of contractors in your area. Should you select a professional who is a registered member of a building organization, you’ll have an advantage because these builders have access to the latest industry techniques and product information.

Once you have a few general contractors in mind, prepare a detailed list your requirements for the construction of your new garage or garage apartment. Be as specific as possible clearly outlining your needs and requirements. The more specific and detailed your requirements are ensures more accurate bids from the builders. It is necessary to provide each contractor with a set of blueprints. A copy of the material list from the designer of the plan will be handy too, if available. Also, provide a list of materials you want for your new garage including things like siding or brick, doors, windows, insulation, and roofing. Include colors, model numbers, name brands and sizes. Don’t forget about information for appliances and fixtures you have selected. Remember the more specific information you supply, the more accurate bids you’ll receive from potential general contractors. You’ll discover it will be well worth your time.

When you have all of this information prepared, submit it to the general contractors you are considering and request a construction bid for your garage. Carefully review each written bid when it is returned to you. Do not accept any verbal bids. Examine each bid. Each one should contain a detailed written list of all the elements you will be charged for and their corresponding costs as well as a total finished price. Also look for each of the following in every written bid:

  • A construction timeline specifying a starting and completion date
  • A list of materials the bid is based upon (Are these the materials you specified in your requirements?)
  • An explanation of warranties for appliances, fixtures and labor
  • A list of subcontractors and their associated tasks and costs
  • A statement of how long the bid is valid (Most bids are valid for 30 days.)

Take your time reading and comparing each bid to be sure nothing is left out. Are the right materials included? Are the construction timelines reasonable? Keep an eye out for unrealistically low bids. They are a sign that your construction project could potentially go way over budget later. Though one bid might be greater than another, consider the fact that it is worth paying for a reputable builder who takes pride in his work.

After you have reviewed all the bids, talk to each general contractor about the construction of your new garage. Consider it an interview. Discuss the project in detail so you can get a feel for how well you can work with each builder. Ask several questions about things such as the builder’s experience and qualifications, recent projects, your blueprints, building codes etc. Can you see the builder’s work? Can you visit another jobsite or drive past a recent project and take a look from the street? Remember, it is essential that you select a contractor that submitted a fair bid and is qualified for the job. However, you must be able to communicate well with each other.

The next step is to complete a thorough reference check for each general contractor you are considering. It is a good idea to use all of your resources beginning with the following:

  • Call or visit the Better Business Bureau online to see if any past clients filed complaints against any of the contractors.
  • Check with professionals at lumberyards and material suppliers, they might have insightful information about the builders on your list.
  • Ask each builder for a list of previous clients. They should be able to provide you with contact information for a couple of clients they worked with within the last year. Ask specific questions about each project. Did the general contractor follow a timeline? Was the project completed when promised? Did the builder take time to walk through the project with you at various stages of construction? Was he able to answer all of your questions? Did subcontractors arrive and complete tasks on time?
  • Contact at least one or two clients that each contractor worked with 3-5 years ago. Be sure to ask about craftsmanship and quality of work. How well is the actual structure holding up? Have there been any problems since completion? Were any problems covered under warranties? Has there been a need to replace poor quality materials already? Was the contractor available to answer questions about the construction project long after it was finished?

Take time to educate yourself further about each contractor by doing a little more research. Find out if each one is bonded and if his workers are covered by worker’s compensation insurance. Request to view insurance certificates and verify they are current. Ask about the builder’s insurance in general. If his work is defective, you need to know you are covered. Also take some time to learn about compensation. How will the contractor be paid? Is he charging you a fixed fee for his services or will he be paid a percentage based on the total cost of the project? Be sure to check the contract and make sure it also lists how the subcontractors will be paid and the costs for each service.

After completing all of these steps you will have all the information you need to select a contractor. Consider the discussions you had with each builder and the references you contacted. Review all the bids again. Make your final decision on the builder that is right for you.

Signing the contract is the last big step before construction begins. Go over the contract carefully with your general contractor. Review all the details and be sure you understand everything stated in the contract. Pay close attention to the following items:

  • Starting and completion date for construction
  • Construction timeline and specific dates for each task
  • A detailed outline of costs
  • Total price for construction of your new garage
  • Terms of payment

Choosing a general contractor is no simple task, but if you take the time and put forth the effort to hire the right professional for the job, you will surely see your efforts pay off when your new garage or garage apartment is finished.

More information is available in Tips: Hiring a Builder and Your Garage Building Team: Key Players.

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