Please help me build a set of form questions for general contractor hiring.
September 9, 2007 8:30 PM   Subscribe

Hopefully next year, with the right people and the right financing, we will start building a house. Part of this is hiring a general contractor. I would like to create a sheet of questions to send/give general contractors in my area so I can judge them on that as well as the reputation I can glean from each other and from the many people I've met in this area. Please help me formulate those questions.

Some helpful information:
- I'm pretty rural.
- House will be post-and-beam construction or perhaps timber frame, depending on the wisdom of the p-a-b or t-f designer.
- Part of the job of the general contractor will be to manage the job that the p-a-b/t-f builder does.
- Interested in alternate foundation constructions (rubble trench, FPSF (frost-protected shallow foundations)
- the soil still needs to be tested to determine if a septic system is ok, or a septic lagoon must be created (or possibly a septic mound)
- I'm not interested in extravagance. I'm interested in decent rural home, built for the area we live in (53N, western Canada).
- I'm outside the city limits, but phone and power are to the property line. A well must still be drilled.

However, please keep in mind that this is not a question of HOW I should build, it's WHAT I should ask general contractors before hiring them. I give the above information because it may be pertinent to the questions I ask.

Thanks in advance!
posted by Kickstart70 to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Check this site. Some good info here. Don't know how to us the link, sorry.
posted by JayRwv at 8:39 PM on September 9, 2007

Not sure this will help, but I did have an interesting discussion with someone about how contractors deal with uncertainty. They have to bid, not knowing what's happening to materials' prices (some have been going up quickly lately), and not knowing what they'll find when they start digging, etc. (She was doing a remodel, which is even more full of uncertainty.) But contractors can't really bid high enough that they're sure to have a financial cushion for contingencies and still get the job. So her impression was that people generally bid assuming the best-case scenario and then either break the news to you later, or make it up by overcharging for subsequent change orders. We were saying it'd be cool to find someone who you could trust to take the approach of "hey, there's an uncertainty here, just so you know."
posted by salvia at 8:44 PM on September 9, 2007

Here is a better link.
posted by JayRwv at 8:51 PM on September 9, 2007

There are a number of books that are useful in doing the research on how to talk to and negotiate with a general contractor. My favorite is "On Time and On Budget" by John Rusk, which is a straight-forward and practical read with lists, tips and stories.
posted by jeanmari at 9:04 PM on September 9, 2007

This may be a situation where Canada is really different from the US, but around here you could weed out 99% of the contractors simply by asking how many houses they had built using "alternative" construction methods. Here, the vast majority of houses are built using "normal" construction methods, and those are what the contractors know how to price, build, and evaluate. If you are lucky enough to be in an area where a number of contractors are using these methods, then I think the next step is visiting a set of the houses each has built, and looking really closely at the quality of the work. But I personally wouldn't at all be comfortable hiring a general contractor to control construction methods (eg rubble foundations) with which he/she didn't have extensive experience.
posted by Forktine at 10:14 PM on September 9, 2007

I asked a similar question in regards to a remodel. Here is the question. I felt like many of the answers were helpful.
posted by bove at 1:28 PM on September 10, 2007

"How do you handle change orders?"
"Do you clean up the worksite each day?"
"Who will be our main contact when we have questions about the construction of the house?"

I can't stress enough going with someone that seems trustworthy and who you can see working with for a year, possibly getting into heated arguments with, and remaining on good terms. 5+ years in the community is a plus. Choosing a contractor based on cost alone is a bad, bad idea.

Look for other homes that you like the look of and see who built them. Builders tend to like building similar structures, or at least may be better and more efficient doing work they've been through before.
posted by docpops at 8:24 PM on September 11, 2007

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