Ask a Contractor

1. What kind of license do you have?
We're not talking driver's license here. If the work you're contemplating having the contractor perform will cost more than only $500, a licensed contractor must perform it. General contractors have a Class B license; specialty contractors a Class C. A general contractor is licensed to do carpentry or projects that involve three or more separate trades. A contractor with a specially license is licensed to do ONLY that specific specially work, such as plumbing, drywall, painting, etc. Be sure your contractor is properly licensed.

2. Are you insured?
Make sure you’re protected. Your contractor should carry both General liability and Workers' Compensation insurance, and should show you current and valid certificates that indicate sufficient coverage for a job your size.

3. Can your subcontractors, show proof of licensing and insurance as well?
Once again, be sure that the subcontractors have the appropriate specialty licenses and adequate insurance coverage. We use only those subcontractors who can first demonstrate to us their ability to do so. Additionally, we frequently choose to work with specific subcontractors with whom we’ve had successful relationships and whose quality and integrity we can depend on.

4. What will our payment arrangements be?
Contractors normally will perform a portion of the work and bill you for that portion on completion; work out ahead of time with your contractor and lender when and how payment will be made. On some jobs, particularly if they involve design or engineering on the contractor's part, a retainer is appropriate. This typically shouldn't exceed 10% of the projected cost for the total work, though.

5. Do you have a list of references?
Of course, no contractor will use a dissatisfied client as a reference. Try to contact the two or three most recent references, and ask detailed questions. Also, contact the Better Business Bureau, and the Contractor's licensing Board at (800) 321-2752, to see whether any complaints have been filed against that contractor. Westport Construction success is built largely on our reputation for quality and integrity; please visit our Testimonials webpage.

6. Can you provide me a detailed breakdown of the costs for this project?
As a minimum, this list should include the costs for each subcontractor or supplier's portion of the work, the contractor's profit, and the cost of overhead items like temporary power or water, superintendent's costs, insurance, etc. We provide an extremely detailed breakdown to each of our clients, including the construction-related costs typically borne by the Owner, so that there are no hidden or unexpected costs.

7. What form of contract can we agree on using for this job?
Two hundred years ago it wasn’t unusual to have a single-page contract for the construction of large projects; simple language requiring the contractor to employ “best workmanship” seemed adequate to settle disputes. While we’re determined to exceed each client’s expectations on every project, these days it’s a good idea for both parties to feel a bit more protected by a more substantive document. 'We prefer to use the American Institute of Architects (AIA) forms as a starting point. These contract forms do an excellent job of protecting the rights of the Owner, and are fair to the contractor as well. We often propose amendments to these documents to better protect both parties. So do our clients, and we’re always amenable to revisions that help all parties feel protected and help encourage a cooperative spirit during construction. By all means, sign a contract ONLY after you're sure you understand it clearly, and consult with your attorney, architect, and other appropriate professionals. 

8. Will you make sure to obtain the proper approvals?
Don’t pay for work that requires inspection by agencies having inspection authority without verification that it’s been approved. Ask to see the building permit or sign-off card, and don't pay for any work if the appropriate inspector hasn't signed it off. We recommend that all parties, including the architect and engineers, come to an understanding and agreement on which specific items of work will have this requirement before work commences.

9. Are you the low bidder? If not, why?
The second part of that question is critical. We're often the low bidder, but often we’re not. That’s because we’re going to take the time and effort to ensure that you understand the true costs of your proposed project. Many contractors will bid low, then charge the Owner for items that were presumably left out of the contract. Be sure to have clear and concise drawings spelling out what you want the end product to be (and remember, if you're using an AIA contract [see #71, those drawings are a part of the contract); be sure the contractor has given you a detailed breakdown of all the costs involved in arriving at that end product (see #6); be sure the contractor has a track record of being able to perform the work per the contract without an inordinate number of change orders (see #5). What you really want isn't the lowest bidder, per se. You want the contractor who will deliver the finished product you had in mind and will deliver the best quality for your dollar.

10. What else are you going to do for me?
The traditional, compartmentalized roles of Owner, Architect, and Contractor are evolving, and the boundaries are blurring. For years Westport Construction has been ahead of the curve in serving its clients by being able to step outside our traditional role as Contractor. Our expertise in development, architecture, and construction management allows us to understand your project from a unique perspective, and allows us to offer vital counsel throughout the predevelopment process. We can provide input on costing, construction methodology, building systems, material selection, green building practices, and design elements, to name a few. Many of our clients choose to involve us early in the predesign process, something we’re more than willing to do in order to maximize the quality of the project.