Friday, June 12, 2009

Choosing a Contractor

We started talking to contractors before we talked to our first architect. There may not be a lot of architects to choose from, the there are always a lot of contractors. Since this will be large house with a lot of custom features, we wanted a contractor who had built houses similar to ours.

If you are doing a simple remodeling project it is possible to hire a specialized contractor for painting or roofing or building decks. But when you are building an entire house, you want a general contractor. They will not have all their workers on staff, but it is our experience that the best contractors know the best subcontactors. Several contractors we talked to were pleasant individuals, but they were used to building smaller houses and only building one house at a time. Other contractors were working on several houses at once. For us it was important to not just talk to the general contractor but also to their site supervisors. The general contractor owns the company, but the site supervisor will be managing your project every day. It was also important to us to see houses being built and not just houses that were finished. We wanted to see the rough framing; was it straight, were things level, did joins meet up. We wanted to see the job site; was it tidy, were places not being worked on swept, were piles of materials in order. We wanted to talk to the contractors about their building philosophy; this is a desert, were they careful about insulation and window and door weatherproofing, did they have detailed scheduling and budgeting tools, did they have a website where we could check on progress when we were not in Nevada, had they ever worked with our architect before, did they have a good working relationship with the developer in whose community we were building.

One contractor was recommended to us by our realtor. They built custom homes, but were a very small division of a much large company who built tract housing. They had the advantage of all the budgeting and bidding methods of a much larger contractor, but weren't actually building any homes at the moment, so it was difficult to visit a working job site. They eventually showed us a smaller house that they were building for the company's owner. We found another contractor by visiting a hillside lot during rough framing in the same community as we were building. We liked the attention to detail and the tidy nature of the building site. These contractors were building several very large houses in all stages of construction. We visited their job sites over several months, but none of the job sites were as tidy and controlled as the first house we saw. Sometimes it is the owner and not the general contractor who keeps things in order.

We really liked both of these contractors, but our architect was not sure that they were the right companies for the job, so he recommended two more contractors. One contractor worked mostly in the exclusive areas of Summerlin on the west side. He was building the personal home of a commercial casino architect. It was extremely modern and complex. He was also building a more traditional house with a most untraditional elevated swimming pool with viewing ports in the bottom of the pool. Not only did we like this contractor, but we also liked his site supervisor. However he had never built a house in the community that we were in. The last contractor was building two houses in our community, but both of them were houses built on speculation and both owners had stopped construction when their funds had dried up. The houses were lovely, but we were worried that the contractor might not have enough work to stay in business.

My husband and I went back and forth agonizing about who to choose. We liked all the final four contractors, but each of them had something we were wary about. Our architect wanted to finish the drawings and submit them to the Architectural Design Review Committee, but not before he could talk to our general contractor about the plans. If the contractor wanted to make any slight contruction changes in the framing, the architect had to know about it before our first set of plans was distributed. We had to choose someone soon. We had one last meeting with the contractor from the west side. We wanted to make sure that he wouldn't mind a project that was far from his normal building sites. He assured us that he had built houses much further away and that we would be assigned the site supervisor that we had liked so much. Telling the other three contractors that we had chosen someone else was painful, since we had spent so much time with them all. One of them did not react at all well and blamed our architect for our choice. I guess I am glad that we did not pick him. As we visit building supply services for granite, bathroom fixtures and cabinets, I am glad to hear that all these suppliers think very highly of our contractor. He's been building in Clark County for many years and has a great reputation.