Hiring a contractor for a job in Philadelphia can often feel like stepping gingerly through a minefield, especially for a commercial building project. But there are a number of steps you can take to ensure you’ll be working with a reputable, reliable builder who will see your project through to successful completion.
The first and most important consideration when choosing your contractor will be to gather their references. Ask your potential contractors to give you references directly, and go ahead and do a little online sleuthing as well. Try to secure references from earlier in the contractor’s career, as well as from a current job that you can see in progress if possible.
How else can you establish the reliability of your general contractor?
• There are a number of websites that actually rate builders with client reviews. One or two complaints isn’t necessarily cause for concern. However, if there are consistent reports of dissatisfaction with a contractor, that’s a sign to steer clear.
• Your builder’s relationships with the suppliers they use is a good indicator of their reliability. Ask the contractor for a list of the major suppliers they use for basic building materials. (Tile suppliers, for example, or lumber yards.) You can check with these suppliers to find out what their relationship with the builder is like, which should give you a better idea of how reliable they are to work with.
• Various builder’s associations are also a good place to find information on your potential commercial contractor. Being a member of these associations is a good sign that your contractor takes their work seriously and isn’t part of a fly-by-night operation. In the Philadelphia area, try the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia, the General Building Contractors Association, or the Pennsylvania Builders Association.
• Groups such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry will even assist in trying to mediate disputes between members and clients, if requested.
• Consumer review websites such as Yelp, Houzz and Angie’s List have extensive listings for, and information about, Philadelphia-area contractors. If the commercial contractor you’re considering does residential construction work as well, there’s a good chance his business will be listed, and possibly reviewed, on one of these sites. (Note: Angie’s List is a paid service, while Yelp and Houzz are free to join.) Other sites worth browsing include HomeAdvisor and Thumbtack.
Questions to ask your contractor
Is your contractor licensed? Some states do not require licensing, only registration. Generally speaking, getting licensed involves some kind of test or evaluation of the individual’s knowledge, whereas registration requires only that you pay a fee. So, being licensed is a valuable measure of your contractor’s commitment and capabilities.
The City of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses & Inspections maintains an online list of professional contractors who are legally licensed to work in the city. If you’re not sure whether or not a particular contractor has all of his or her legally required licenses, this is a good place to start.
Is your contractor insured? This includes both general liability and worker’s compensation insurance. You need to be protected in the event that something is damaged by the contractor or his employees. Worker’s comp insurance protects you from liability if there are any injuries.
Do they guarantee their work? You may not think this question needs to be asked, but it does. Determining whether, and how, the contractor guarantees their work is very important. Establish how your contractor will address any issues encountered, both during the build and after it’s completed.
Who is the job foreman? Either the contractor acts as the job foreman directly, or has a foreman who will be assigned to the job to be present on a daily basis. You’ll want to meet with the person responsible for the day-to-day management of your project before you decide on your contractor. If possible, meet with the foreman who will be in charge of your project at a site they’re currently working on.
On estimates and bidding
Before you can start getting estimates and bids from contractors—and certainly before you select a contractor—you need to determine exactly what you’ll be asking for. Have a set plan for what you need accomplished in this project.
Will they itemize your bid? This is another important question. A contractor should be willing to itemize the major components that make up your job, at least to a certain extent. Demolition, plumbing, drywall, and framing and carpentry are all aspects of the job that can be broken down fairly accurately for an estimate. A fair and reliable contractor will provide a breakdown of your cost without trying to gouge you by hiding fees within the bid.
In the Philadelphia area, Souder Brothers Construction is a great local resource for your commercial (or residential!) renovation. They can even help you with the planning of your job, as discussed earlier, which is essential for a successful project. As with anything else, the proper planning leads to the best result.
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