finding the contractor

5.26.2014

Meet my new best friend, Boswell Construction. They will be our general contractor handling the construction of our house. It was a long (and necessary) process finding them and I'm going to go through how I did it.

First, I compiled a list of contractors. I asked fellow architects and colleagues for recommendations, talked to friends who have had major construction done on their house, and even jotted down a number off a sign hanging outside a house that was under construction. I called all of them and received a range of responses. Some never picked up my call or took weeks to respond (after a few more calls). Some picked up right away and were ready to answer my long list of questions.

As for questions, I started with a list that Life of an Architect posted here. I then added a few of my own that were more specific to our style and project. After my calls, I looked up each contractor's license to make sure it is valid and what type of permits have been filed under them. It's a great way to get a grasp of the contractor's project experience and align what they've told you to what you actually see on public records. Once that all checked out, I narrowed it down to two contractors and asked for references. Again, I called all of them and used the list of questions for references from Life of an Architect. I found that most of the references would not stop talking about their positive experience with so-and-so contractor. To get the most out of your call, have your questions ready so you don't get side tracked.

I have to say amongst all the contractors, only Boswell Construction invited me to visit one of their current job sites, which really surprised me. Of course, I went. I highly recommend this when possible. I got to talk to the superintendent, scope out how organized and neatly the site was kept up, and got an overall feel of how the company runs each project.

After all the due diligence, I can't tell you who is the best contractor but I can only say who is the best contractor for our project. Every project is different, so therefore, every project requires a different contractor. If we were doing a simple bathroom renovation, we may not be working with the same guys. Just keep that in mind when selecting yours.  

Once we knew who we wanted to work with, the next item of discussion was contract. Basically, there are two types of contracts: lowest bid and cost-plus-fee. Coming from commercial development, I knew from the beginning I wanted to do cost-plus-fee for our house. There are pros and cons for both contract types, but I just felt with this particular project, cost-plus-fee was most appropriate. Here are a few reasons why:

  • This was my first residential project. I knew I would miss a few things here or there. I didn't want to get hit by some big change orders under a lowest bid contract. 
  • This was my first project on the west coast. The construction process here is quite different from the east coast, again I didn't want to miss anything and result in a big change order. 
  • This is going to be our own house, we want it to be perfect, which means minds will be changed along the way, I guarantee it. When that time comes, again I don't want to get hit a change order. 
  • We have a tight budget, so having a contractor on board during the design process allows us to value engineer along the way. 

A cost-plus-fee contract creates a very honest and transparent relationship between the owner and contractor. You will basically see every bill from a subcontractor or every check the contractor cuts for your project. Boswell will be bidding out each trade to at least 3 different subs, so we will know we're getting a fair price for the work. The industry standard for a contractor's fee is 15%, anything significantly less makes me ask some questions.

Sometimes, contracts like these require some time and effort on the owner. For us, this is what I do, so it doesn't seem that tasking. I'm really excited about working with Boswell Construction and can't wait to share more about my project with y'all.

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