A contractor is part businessman – part craftsman. He (or she) will be responsible in transforming your dream home from blueprint to final completion. From the quality of the workmanship to final cost – this person will, in essence, become your business partner for the next several months. So, choosing the right contractor takes time and patience.
Even if you’re not planning on building for several months or more, you should still be looking for a responsible contractor. A contractor who is in demand is usually the ideal choice, but remember that he will have to try to fit you into hectic work schedule. Often, where the building season is shorter, they are scheduling work anywhere from a few months to upwards of a year in advance.
These are, for the most part, four (4) different routes that you can decide upon – depending upon your own involvement on the project.
1. Construction Company. Most generally do medium to large scale projects and often have several different projects going at the same time. They, also, have an office staff to keep the paperwork moving plus a small army of sub-contractors. They emphasis efficiency and prefer to work directly with the company that did the working drawings. Biggest drawback: higher overall costs that they will charge to work on your project.
2. General Contractor. The ‘carpenter/builder’ works directly on the job as field foreman. He supervises and coordinates the various independent sub-trades. Being a craftsman, his workmanship is probably very good.
To find a reliable contractor takes time. It is wise on the pocketbook to find one that is in the area that you intend to build in, otherwise the contractor must move all the equipment to your area and ‘setup shop’. However, do not forsake a good contractor just to save a few dollars.
Once you have a number of names – begin to check them out with the Chamber Of Commerce, Department Of Consumer Affairs, the Better Business Bureau, and (of course) the occasional knock on the door of the homes that you like. Most people are more than willing to give out a contractor’s name if they had a good relationship with him. WARNING: Watchdog agencies just keep a list of names and number of complaints – they can’t really tell you how many were indeed valid.
Next, setup interviews with each of the potential candidates. Ask what his specialties are, bank references (to ensure he is in good financial standing), arrange to see work in progress as well as completed projects.
Make sure they can provide a warranty (most have either a 5 or 10 year New Home Warranty) and references to find out about his ’follow-through’, refuse disposal, smooth paperwork and accounting, or failure to obtain the proper permits ahead of time. Contractors can charge by a number of different methods.
A) Cost Plus. Basic cost of the project + his fee for working on it.
B) Percentage. Based on the overall cost of the project.
C) Fixed Fee. A set amount, obviously the best for the budget conscious.
A contractor may refuse a fixed fee – those that are in high demand generally don’t. Also, he has the right to turn down a project or refuse to submit a competitive bid.
If one bid is remarkably low, the contractor may have made an honest error with his estimate. Do not try to hold him to it – doing so may prove disastrous for both you and your dream home.
Most ‘inexperienced’ soon-to-be homeowners may wish to get help when choosing which bid to take. Consult with your local financial institution, they will probably recommend not to take the lowest bid – do to the delicate mix of quality versus economy.
Once you have arranged financing, it’s time for the contract – it is advisable to consult with a lawyer to review the terms.
Of special importance is making you’re your builder is working from a genuine original blueprints. It’s significance can not be understated.
Builders who work off illegally copied plans almost always mean problems will be encountered while building. Most times, these plans do not meet the minimum standards and codes as required by the National Building Code and Municipal Ordinances. Once the inspector realizes this, your dream home will come to a crashing halt. In some cases, the homeowners will face “A Day / A Fine”. This type of fine is levied against the homeowner for each and every day the unauthorized building is standing. It is not long before you realize the time and (most importantly) the expense incurred.
3. Yourself As General Contractor. This may or may not be your best strategy. Being your own contractor means taking on a second ‘very time-consuming’ job. You must look at an incredible number of sub-trades, their own financial health, and make sure to schedule each of them at the correct moment of construction to avoid possible delays.
4. Building Yourself. This is a risky undertaking. The prospect of building an entire house, or even a portion of it, is a daunting proposition. Prepare to take a large number of weeks to several months away from your regular life. Also, as your own builder, you are solely responsible to know and use the National Building Code (Uniform Building Code in the states), local ordinances, and correct manufacturer’s specifications. The local building inspector does not consider inexperience as an excuse for even a single violation of the code. These codes will become your BIBLE when building. Copies are available at the local Government Book Store – but they do charge for them.
The building codes are written in ‘legal-ize’, sometimes interpreting them can be confusing. Explaining them is not your inspector’s responsibility. In many areas, local vocational colleges offer courses in blueprint reading, understanding concepts and language used and differences in basic construction techniques.
How words are written on a blueprint is very important – the language is meant to avoid confusion to a professional builder. Precise interpretation is important. For example, the use of a piece of lumber and for what purpose it is intended. Sometimes it may say ‘strapping’ or ‘furring’ or ‘sleepers’, yet it may be the same lumber but used differently.
Depending on if you buy your plans locally or from the states may mean automatic changes to the plan and specifications. There are ‘layout of rooms’ or ‘structural specifications’ that are allowed in the U.S. Uniform Building Code that are not permitted in the National Building Code Of Canada. Canada, generally, has stricter standards. Even buying plans from British Columbia or Ontario has its problems. Troubles abound with some firms which are merely Canadian outlets for American companies. A sure sign of trouble can be expected if in the ordering information – they list changes may be necessary to comply with local standards.
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