How to choose a contractor
Obtain Multiple Bids from at least 3 different contractors. Examine each proposal closely. There may be significant differences in prices. Be sure when comparing bids that they are based on things like similar materials and finishes. Different materials can result in huge price differences. Oftentimes contractors will provide quotes that include cheaper materials, and then surprise homeowners with large invoices due to the actual items chosen. Contractors may also provide cheaper quotes due to use of materials of lesser quality, i.e. plywood, windows, insulation, fixtures, etc.
Take note of their communication style. Pay attention to how they communicate with you. Is it mostly by phone and text or does the contractor prefer to email? Are they slow to respond or do they reply quickly to any and all inquiries (within reason)? If you need someone who gets back to you quickly, it would be unwise to hire a contractor who ignores your calls and texts for long periods of time. Do they seem trustworthy or give you the runaround? Your contractor should be transparent about the process, as well as receptive to your requests. Home renovations can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, so it’s important that you feel totally comfortable communicating with your contractor.
Make sure your contractor is fully insured. To avoid being sued, it is absolutely crucial that you check to make sure a contractor is insured. Without proper insurance, you could be liable if a subcontractor or worker becomes injured while on the job. In addition to bodily harm or injury, a contractor’s insurance should cover property damage.
Vet your contractor!! THERE IS NO LICENSING REQUIREMENT FOR CONTRACTORS or CARPENTERS IN MAINE! This means that anyone who knows how to swing a hammer and has good persuasion skills can convince you that they are the right person for the job. It costs builders a substantial amount of money to be fully insured, as well as abide by laws that keep their workers on payroll (vs paying employees as subs, which many do to skip having to pay workman's comp for employees). If you receive a bid that is thousands of dollars lower than others, this may be a red flag. While you may be looking to save money on your project, keep in mind that sometimes that means sacrificing important elements, like having an insured contractor.
If someone promises to build you a house in record timing, again this is a red flag. Building a quality home, or completing a home project takes time. Someone who comes in and throws a project together is usually cutting corners to do so. Large building companies will often sub out the project to whoever provides them the lowest bid. You may think they are performing the work, but it is usually people they hire while they manage the paperwork aspect. These building subcontractors will try to get the project done quickly so they can move on to the next. Beware of the temptation to get things done in lightning speed.
Check reviews and references. Don't be afraid to ask for examples of their work. An honest craftsman will be proud of his or her work.
Consider their availability. If the contractor is in high demand, then you’ll likely have to pay more for their services. In addition, you may have to wait for the contractor to complete other projects before they can take on yours. Keep in mind, though, that a contractor who is in high demand is also one who is clearly good at their job and in demand, (and may be worth the wait!). Having the ability to be flexible with your timing will ensure that you end up with the right person. This is a big investment, so you want someone who will do the best job.
Remember, some builders may offer pre-set packages, but this may mean that they have selected items and materials that will give them the biggest profit. You should not be limited to only 3 or 4 choices. You should be able to tell your builder what you like and what you're looking for, and an honest builder will offer you choices that fit within your requests. They will also be honest about whether or not that will push you over budget and offer alternatives, rather than surprising you with a large bill at the end.
STAY AWAY FROM BUILDERS WHO REQUEST LARGE DOWNPAYMENTS! In Maine, a builder cannot force you to pay more than $3000 up front, unless you agree to it. If someone is asking you for tens of thousands of dollars before even starting, beware.