Updated: May 25
Today, with the so-called economic boom hitting all corners of the country, suddenly getting quality workmen for construction has become very difficult. The previous contractors have become developers, the head mason has become local promoters, the helper has become the contractor, so one can easily guess who is working on your projects, that too at 3-times the charges compared 3 years back.
For small project owners thus, it has become extremely difficult to be able to select a good contractor. On top of that, there is a genuine problem regarding the contract and its implementation. One can see the article on “Construction Contract: Problems for plot-owners at New town, Kolkata”.
Here are some of the basic tips one may follow to make a better selection of contractor
1. When possible, choose a contractor through personal recommendations. Try to get referrals from friends or neighbors who have had similar work done. Best, however, would be to crosscheck from your project's architect working in the same area.
2. If you don’t have people who can refer, visit the locality where your building is going to come up. In the neighborhood, any new building that you like go and get the name of the contractor who has done it.
3. After you’ve put together a shortlist, call and pre-qualify several contractors. From each contractor, request names and phone numbers of a few satisfied customers.
4. Call those references and ask to see the contractor’s work. Don’t be shy. Most people who’ve recently built new buildings are proud to show off and, if they like the contractor, they’ll go out of their way to help him or her secure another job.
5. From at least three contractor candidates request a formal bid based on exactly the same plans and specifications. Take the professional help of your architect in preparing the detailed specification.
6. When specifying materials, ask your architect to avoid the term ‘or equal’ unless it is clear that substitutions can’t be made without your approval. If you agree to a separate budget for items you haven’t selected yet, such as plumbing fixtures or floor coverings, be sure the budget figure is high enough to cover their costs. Do your homework; go to a home improvement center to price the fixtures and finishes you want.
7. Don’t automatically choose the lowest bid. If one bid is seriously lower than the others, be suspicious of inexperience or desperation (the latter isn’t necessarily a problem). Generally speaking, if a bid looks too good to be true, it probably is.
8. Do not consider the final amount only. Evaluate the payment schedule too. As payment schedule often reflects the true intention of the contractor. Take the help of your consultant, if needed. The contractor must be given continual incentives and it protects you from the possibility of a contractor disappearing after you’ve made early payments. Remember: money is your only leverage for getting things done.
9. Before the final selection, ask your architect or project management consultant to meet the candidate and judge his/her technical understanding and seriousness to respect the drawings during construction. For this feedback, if needed pay additional fees to your consultant but don’t jump this step.
10. Chemistry with your contractor is critical–this person may be in your midst for several months, and there may be times when you have to haggle about difficult issues. Ask whether your job will be the only one on their plate or whether they’ll be managing multiple projects at the same time. Find out whether the contractor will be on-site to supervise your job or hand it off to a foreman.
11. Don’t forget to specify who will be responsible for demolition, cleanup, and trash collection. Be sure your plans are thought through completely. It’s fair for a contractor to charge you for changes and modifications that are not in the plans, particularly those changes that will require more work or more expensive materials. Charges for changes and extras can send your budget through the roof.
12. Get multiple phone numbers of your contractor and make sure under no circumstances the main contact person goes out of your reach.
13. Have a written agreement on the exit conditions and exit negotiation policy. Have time-wise penalty and award, so that the time component is the essence of the contract.
14. Don’t sign a completion statement or make the final payment until the job has passed the final inspection. Be aware that materials suppliers or subcontractors who are owed money by your contractor can place a lien against your property. You can protect yourself from this by adding a release-of-lien clause to your contract or asking for proof of payment to your contractor. Another somewhat expensive option is to issue a portion of your payments to an escrow account to be held until the work is completed.
15. Whatever small time it may be, always have a risk liability period after the completion of the project, and keep a small amount withheld to get the required service after completion on time.
This list is actually very difficult to be made comprehensive. The trustworthiness of the person must be judged to be absolutely sure. You also need to be a little flexible and understand the actual problems of your contractor. Don’t try to exploit a contractor with good intentions too.
Another alternative for today's quality-conscious homeowners, where most are ready to pay for a better brand and trustworthy quality, is to select an ethical and renowned Architect and go for Architect-led-Design-Build contract with the firm, to ensure the quality of construction and the overall design integration for your project.
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About the author:
The Author, Ar. Abhishek Dutta, is a National Award-winning architect (also a gold medalist (thesis) from J.U.) and Environmental Expert with more than 14 years of working experience in New Town. He is the Editor, of IIA-WB Chapter, Hon. Secretary of the Institute of Indian Interior Designers (IIID) Kolkata and a visiting Faculty/Critic of Various Institutes including National Institute of Technology, Rourkela, IDEA College, Nashik, Bharti Vidyapith College of Architecture Mumbai, Amity University, Techno-India University, Om Dayal College of Architecture, Jadavpur University, Kolkata.
He is the founder Partner of the architectural Firm ArcOn Design.