How to Pick a Great Contractor

Henish Pulickal

November 12, 2019

Just earlier today two of my best friends called me desperate for my help to get them a contractor to build them an ADU (accessory dwelling unit, aka Granny Flat) behind their home in Ventura, CA.  They even offered to let my construction crew stay in the primary house while they built the ADU over the garage. Unfortunately, that’s not a practical solution for our company based in San Diego. So, I spent a couple hours doing research and digging into my professional network to give them a couple warm leads.  But I don’t want them to blindly sign a contract with a contractor based on someone that told me that “he’s a great guy!” I’m writing this as a guideline for them and anyone trying to select a contractor.

Why is it so hard to find a great contractor, who is affordable, does a great job and finishes on time?  If money is no object, you can find professional, reputable general contracting companies. If you can afford to pay over $75k – $100k for a kitchen remodel, you’ll love the experience you get.  

If you’re a regular person that has a budget, an affordable contractor that you can trust to do a great job is hard to find. Why?  Oftentimes, the contractor is doing their own business development, bidding, client management, cost management, and they are swinging hammers too!  Many times, it’s also a one-man show. This is a huge burden for a small business owner to manage all these different aspects of running a successful contracting business that can deliver the service levels that modern consumers have come to expect.  

Step 1. Do your research and ask everyone you know for a recommendation.  Check with your Realtor, your neighbors, or anyone you know that may have done a remodel or addition recently. You could even ask your friends on your social media networks for suggestions.  Many online sources can also help you identify potential contractors too: yelp and houzz are a couple options.

Once you have narrowed down your list, stalk the company online.  Check out their website and social media presence. Are they doing the kind of projects you need them to do?  Pictures are great, but they can also be deceiving.

Step 2. Check their licensing to make sure it’s active on www.cslb.com and click “check a license.”  Ask the company for a copy of their insurance to make sure it’s current.

Step 3. Meet with the contractor directly, in-person preferred, but phone works for a preliminary screening.  

  • Does the contractor communicate well?  
  • Are they professional and do you like them enough to work with them for the next 4-12 weeks or more?
  • Do they pick up the phone and call you back promptly?   \
  • Ask if you can tour an active job site with them or see recently finished projects.  
  • What is the management structure?
    •  After the salesperson visits, will you see them again?
    • Is the person bidding the job also doing the work?
    • Will they subcontract out the entire job so you don’t see the initial salesperson again?

And don’t forget to . . .

Step 4.  . . . get references from 3 recent clients and the ask them:

  • How was the communication before and during the project?
  • Did they finish the job on time and on budget?
  • Did you have any issues with change orders or in general?
  • Were there any surprises, good or bad?
  • Would you work with them again and refer them to your friends?

Step 5.  Evaluating a proposal: Comparing a proposal can be tricky so you have to understand what you are looking at and making sure you are comparing apples to apples.  

  • Does the scope of work cover the same job between different proposals?
  • Are there any exclusions for labor or materials?
  • Are any areas or item costs low-balled, so you get up-charged later?
  • Cost isn’t the only factor, you get what you pay for.  Would you pay slightly more for a company that can get the work done on-time and on-budget with less stress to you?  

That’s it.  There’s your formula for due diligence to select a contractor.  It’s not easy. This will take you a few hours to do, but if you are planning to spend $50k and 4 weeks away from your home, it will be worth it.  Like my grandfather said, “A stitch in time, saves nine.” Follow these steps and be confident in your judgement to select a great contractor and get that project done!  


2019 CalHomeCo Construction

CSLB #1044138

CalDRE # 01878277

4250 Morena Blvd Suite E

San Diego, CA 92117

(858) 633-7812

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