The process of finding a professional for construction work, be it an architect, or contractor, should really be no different than finding other professionals, such as a doctor or a lawyer. The best practitioners leave a trail of happy faces behind them who are quick to offer their names in conversation or show off their great work. A recommendation from someone who used a firm or individual, or who knows someone who did, is a valuable asset. If you can view the work for yourself, it’s better still. If the work can’t be seen in person, firms are increasingly developing web presences, and a photo gallery is an almost universal feature. Viewing web galleries can also be a great way to find design ideas, so it is well worth it to spend some time surfing during the thinking phase. There are also web sites, some free, some not, that specialize in linking clients up with professionals in their area (e.g. Angie’s List). While this route may provide some degree of pre-screening, for example, by providing referrals only to licensed or recommended contractors, it presently reaches only a fraction of the community, as the majority of professionals don’t make use of these.
There is also a definite personal element to the selection process, so it is highly advisable to interview several potential professionals. There will be close and lengthy interaction for medium or large works, so it is very important to be comfortable with both the personality and work philosophy of the individual or firm chosen. Given the nature of the interaction, it is ill-advised for a homeowner to view the professional solely as an employee. The relationship between professional and client yields the best fruit when it is approached by both as collaborative, versus a business, transaction.
Choosing Among Quotes
In addition to the personal factor already mentioned, the other major factor in choosing a contractor is the quote they have offered for the work you want. At some point, a group of bids will be spread out on the table, all having different numbers. While it might simplify the task, there are several good reasons to avoid focusing exclusively on the bottom line. First, contractors price their labor time differently from one another. Second, estimating is far from an exact science, so individuals will perceive the amount of work needed differently, compounding the labor price factor. Lastly, dissimilar quotes will frequently not offer identical scopes of work; some will include steps others have omitted, and vice-versa. Often these steps are incorporated to yield a more pleasing result, and because they involve more time and materials, they increase the price. If there is a question, don’t hesitate to discuss the quote with the firm. Choose a quote that you think will give the most satisfying outcome for the dollars spent, bearing in mind that you may be comparing apples to oranges among them. Perhaps the single most important step in selecting a bid is to obtain a list of references from past clients. Good work is its own recommendation, and satisfied clients are usually happy to serve as references. Be very wary of any individual or firm unable or unwilling to supply references; common sense dictates that there is likely to be a reason for this.
It is true that there are some practitioners out there in the contracting jungle who are responsible for the bad press the field enjoys. No denying it. However, many more understand the value of customer service and good business practice, and “do the craft proud.” With a healthy measure of diligence, and some plain common sense, it should be no problem to find professionals who will be able to turn your vision into a beautiful reality.
Andy Marchini is a founding partner of Harmon-Marchini Building, Inc. (914) 255-0156.