Questions to Ask a Contractor When Building a Home

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Building a home is a huge undertaking, but something that is entirely worth it the moment you walk through your front door for the first time. Unfortunately, your dream home can’t be magically pulled from your imagination fully built; designing and building a home is a long process and it takes patience, creativity, and professionals to get it done right. This means hiring a contractor and an architect who has the ability to bring your vision to life. 

But before you begin your search, there are a few things you need to figure out first. 

Have a Budget and an Idea in Mind

The very first thing you should think about is your financial feasibility. Speak with your accountant, lender, or bank to learn how much money you can put into building a home before you do anything else. 

After your budget is set, you’re going to want to create a concise list of all of your needs and wants in your home. This is your dream home design: if you have an idea, you’ll need to be able to communicate that before a design can be drawn up to see if a contractor can handle the scope of work.

Do I Really Need a Contractor? 

The short answer is yes. You will need a contractor and subcontractors to build your home. However, the task of finding the right contractor doesn’t need to fall on your shoulders. If you’re planning on building a house, you’ll need to contact an architect to design it. The right architect will be knowledgeable and will have connections with local contractors who have the experience to build your dream home. 

For example, Urban Design Associates has a large network of local contractors who are not only experienced but sustainable. As your design leads, Urban Design Associates is in charge of preparing documents for negotiated contracts or competitive bids, reviewing all proposals, and choosing the best contractor for the job. Urban Design Associates acts as the project lead, so you will have assistance in assessing and choosing contractors that are right for you and your future home.

Once you have all that, you’re ready to start researching to assemble a team of professionals. Your core team will be made up of the architect and builder. If you plan to use an interior designer, he or she will also be a part of your core team. 

In some cases, you won’t need an architect, but you will always need a contractor. Hiring an architect or contractor first really depends on the scope of the project and whether you plan to bid your project out to multiple contractors. If you are going to have more than one contractor bid on your project, then the first person you need to contact is an architect. If you already know who you want to build or remodel your home, then that contractor can help you find an architect they think will meet your design needs. 

What About Remodels?

If you’re looking to remodel instead of build, the process for finding a contractor is the same up until this point. You will still need a vision, a budget, and a reliable architect. Just remember that a remodel can take just as much time as a new construction, depending on the scope of the project.

Will you need an architect for a remodel? That depends. A general rule of thumb is to call an architect if the value of your project is more than 5% of your home’s value, or if structural, electrical, or plumbing changes are going to be made. Architects also specialize in site analysis, which can be very helpful to review selecting land or an existing house to make sure it will meet all your needs.

If this is not the case, an experienced contractor should suffice. 

Questions You Should Ask Your Before Hiring A Contractor

Here is a list of questions you should ask (and answers to look for) before you hire a contractor. 

What is the Percentage of Mark-up the Contractor Should Take?

This is the amount of profit a contractor is looking to make from the contract. The percentage of mark-up depends on the total cost of the project. For example, a job that would cost $10K to complete might cost the client $12,500, if the contractor has a 25% mark-up. This would net the contractor $2,500 in profit. 

You can use this calculator as a tool when researching contractors. 

Should the Contractor Share Their Subcontractor List?

Yes! A contractor should be transparent with their client about who will be working on the home. 

What’s the Difference Between a Cost Plus Contract and Fixed Fee Contract?

A cost-plus contract is where the client pays for all of the contractor’s allowed expenses, plus additional payments to ensure the contractor makes a profit. These contracts provide flexibility to the contractor, at some risk to the buyer. In such a case, the party drawing up the contract anticipates that the contractor will make good on his or her promises to deliver, and agrees to pay extra so that the contractor can make an additional profit upon completion.

A fixed fee contract is a contract for a fixed amount of money. The amount does not depend on the resources used or time expended on the project.

What Are Your Certificates Of Liability And/Or Insurance?

Every contractor should be certified to work in the state they’re operating in and offer insurance. Good contractors go beyond and have additional certifications. For a list of certifications in Arizona, visit this guide

How Do They Schedule Payments?

Every contractor has a schedule for when they expect to be paid. Some will want a lump sum, while others may bill on a monthly or bi-weekly basis. 

Should Your Architects Review Certificates Of Payments?

Yes. The architect is there to save you money so you only pay for what was completed in that billing period.

Can I See Your Projects? Have They Worked In The Neighborhood You Are Working In?

Seeing is always believing. If the contractor has past projects or is currently working on one and denies you the ability to see it, move on. You will want trust and transparency in this long-term working relationship, and seeing their work in real life is the best approach to ensuring you’ll be happy with the finished product. 

How Do Change Orders Work?

A change order is a document used to record an amendment to your original construction contract. They are common in most larger projects and can feel frustrating. It is important to have a clear line of communication with your contractor to understand when and why a change on the project is happening.  

Is Their Contract Based on an AIA Legal Contract?

AIA contracts or a vetted equivalent are a must. They are documents that balance the interests of all the stakeholders, from the contractor, architect, and owner, so no one is unfairly represented. 

If you’re still unsure, contact Urban Design Associates. They will be able to answer any of your questions and have free consultations if you’re looking to build your dream home.