In a previous post (HOW TO FIND A GOOD CONTRACTOR, August 15, 2015) I touched on questions you should ask your prospective contractor.  I expand on this topic in this post.

On a larger / commercial project, especially where the owner is accustomed to working with general contractors, construction firms may be invited to bid on a project based on their proven track record.  On much larger and more complex projects (especially government projects), construction firms may be prequalified in a more formal approach by having the firms interested in the project submit a prequalification form; then the construction firms deemed most qualified are invited to bid.

For smaller / residential projects where the owner is not accustomed to hiring and working with a general contractor, it it recommended you interview enough construction firms until you are able to narrow the field down to at least three bidders you feel you would be comfortable working with.  Here are a few of the key questions you should ask and what responses to listen for:

What Class licensed contractor and Specialization do they hold?  It is important the contractor holds the appropriate license in both classification and specialization to perform the work required by your project. In Virginia, The Board of Contractors issues licenses in one of three classes: A, B & C. Class A contractors can perform projects $120,000.00 and above.  Class B contractors can perform projects of $10,000.00 or more, but less than $120,000.00.  Class C contractors can perform projects over $1,000.00, but no more than $10,000.00.  The specialization for commercial building contractors is CBC and the specialization for residential building contractors is RBC.

How will payments be disbursed?  Your owner - contractor agreement for the construction work must describe how payments will be disbursed to the contractor.  There are two common methods for paying the general contractor.  The first method is based on benchmarks obtained throughout the progress of the work.  For example, the contractor would be paid at each of the following benchmarks: after the foundation has been installed, after the framing is completed, after the A-C, electrical & plumbing has been roughed-in, after the drywall is installed, after the floor floor finishes are installed and then upon final completion.  This method is most common for smaller projects with shorter construction timelines.  The second method is a monthly payment for the work completed during that month.  This method is most common for larger projects with longer construction timelines.  With either method the owner should hold 10% retainage against each payment which is paid to the general contractor upon final completion.  Retainage is held as an incentive for the general contractor to complete all work to an acceptable level.

How will the project be managed?  Your general contractor should mention things like: A construction schedule will be provided at the beginning of the project; a superintending will  be present at all times when subcontractors are onsite working; the project site will be maintained in a neat, orderly and safe fashion; if the project involves renovations, occupied portions of the structure will be sealed off to prevent the infiltration of dust; you will be notified of times when the electrical or water service will be shut-off and you will not be left overnight without electrical and water service.

Are you insured and bonded?  Different construction firms will have different insurance requirements.  At a minimum your contractor must have Contractor General Liability (CGL) insurance and may require workers compensation and automobile insurance.  Your general contractor must provide you with a Certificate of Insurance listing all their current insurance coverage, the  coverage amounts and the coverage period.  There are several types of bonds  (e.g. bid bond, performance bond and payment bond) which your project may require depending on the size and financing of your project.  At a minimum you want to make sure your contractor is bonded against property theft; this is especially important if you will have workers in your house around your personal belongings.  However, you always want to put valuables away in a safe / hidden place.

These are a few of the important questions you should review with your general contractor.  Your architect can assist you with this process and can be some of the best money you'll ever  spend.     







Having a good reputable contractor can be the difference between a project becoming a nightmare or ending as a success.  The contractor is the third leg which supports the table (your project being the table), you the owner and your architect are the other two legs.  Your architect can assist you with finding a select group of reputable contractors to bid your project.  There are several steps to finding a good reputable contractor.  First, begin by finding the names of numerous contractors to consider for your project; ask family, friends, neighbors or even strangers that are currently or have recently worked with a contractor about whether or not it was a good experience and if they would recommend them.  Second, check with the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR) to make sure the contractors you are considering are licensed, has the correct license for your type of project and to see if they have any open or closed complaints against them and what the details are / were in regards to the complaint.  You can check all this on DPOR's website.  Lastly, reach out to the contractors and set-up a meeting with each one to see how you connect with them on a personal level.  Ask questions about how will the project be supervised & managed, how will payments be disbursed, sequence of work, time frame and how will they maintain the site in a neat, safe and orderly fashion; I talk more about this topic in blog: QUESTIONS FOR YOUR PROSPECTIVE CONTRACTOR, May 4, 2016.  Get references from the contractors and make sure you check them.  You might even ask the references if they mind if you come and see the contractor's work first hand; most owner's that have had a good experience with their project are wanting to show it off.   If you follow this approach, chances are you will end up with a contractor which will help make your project a success and not a nightmare.   


What materials should I bring to my initial meeting with an architect?

You should have a copy of your plat, scrapbook of photos showing other project which inspire you, an idea of your goals and budget, and anything else you feel is important.  I actually had an initial meeting with a client and they had built a model, I was impressed with the level of detail.   A plat is a drawing prepared by a surveyor which shows the property lines and other site features of the proposed building site.  Clients can be hesitant to talk about budget initially, but the more honest you are with your architect about the budget the better equipped the architect will be to assist you.

The initial meeting is also a time for you and the architect to see how you connect with one another.  You want to choose an architect you feel comfortable working with, and which understands and respects your goals.

Should I hire an architect for a small project?

You should definitely consider hiring an architect even for a small modest project.  Many architects will provide a no cost initial consultation, so it does not hurt to meet with an architect to see how they can be an asset to your project.   Architects bring peace of mind and significant value to a project through their abilities to: get more out of a smaller space, suggest cost saving strategies, and to reduce the potential for costly change orders.  Don’t overlook the value of good planning; planning is key and a well-designed project saves headaches, time and money.