Selecting A General Contractor?

by Kristin Walsh


As architects, we are often asked by clients to refer a contractor for their project. While we are happy to recommend contractors that we have had great experiences working with, it’s important for clients to engage in the process by taking the following actions:


ASK TO SEE THEIR WORK IN PERSON This does two things: it gives you a chance to view the quality of their work and just as important, it indicates that the contractor is on good terms with (at least) one of their clients. 


COMPARE PROPOSALS When comparing proposals and contracts, make sure you’re able to do so apples to apples. Compare the scope of work included in the base fee; some contractors prefer to offer a higher, all-inclusive fee while others offer a lower base fee with additional expenses. These are both legitimate business models for a typical contractor but it can make for a challenging comparison between the fee proposals. To help streamline the process, ask your contractors to use industry standard contracts such as those published by the American Institute of Architects and carefully review what is included in each part of the bid.


While it may seem like a great deal, always be wary of a low bid. Value and price comparison is important, but if one contractor comes in with a bid substantially below the others it often means that they are either cutting corners with quality or that they don’t fully understand the scope of the work and will come back later to ask for additional money. Have a detailed conversation with a low-bid contractor to fully understand how and where they plan to save money.


Diligence in reviewing the bids and contracts is important for the owner but working with a reputable, trustworthy contractor who takes the time to discuss the scope of work and your expectations for quality and timeline is far more important. Your contractor should be available to review their bid with you and clarify any questions you may have.


GET REFERENCES ...and actually make those calls to the prospective contractors' clients; don't just cross your fingers!  You are going to be spending a lot of time with your contractor. You don’t just want a great value, you also need to consider factors like their personality, their other project work load and commitments, and their communication skills.  When contacting references, ask questions like:  Was the contractor able to maintain your schedule?  Were they good stewards of your money? Were there any unexpected costs? How did you primarily communicate with your contractor; email, phone, text, meetings? Would you hire them to do your next project?



Building a home is an investment of time and money that can be stressful as well as rewarding. Putting together a team of professionals that work together to understand and achieve your goals is the first step to completing a project you are proud to call home. As your architects, we take your interests seriously and want to ensure you have the best home building experience possible. Take your time, ask questions, and let us know how we can best support you throughout the process.