Selecting the Right Contractor for Your Project

Insights, Pancho Dewhurst

By Dennis Elleman

A few months ago, the topic of general contracting may have proven interesting, but certainly was not top news. With the mudslides in La Jolla, however, and the hillside instability of additional locations where homes and businesses sit, the issue of general contractors became more immediate. The wildfires that caused dramatic devastation to properties county-wide and the prospect of large rebuilding and repair projects have given San Diegans renewed and immediate interest in finding reliable general contractors. The challenge is to find the right general contractor to fit the consumer's particular need.

"This is a time for people in our community to understand this industry and take the time for due diligence," said Pancho Dewhurst, owner of GDC Construction in La Jolla. "In simple terms," he said, "you should take all measures possible to protect yourself and your property. Dewhurst noted that consumers should have prepared questions at the ready when interviewing prospective general contractors. They should check, for example, if the contractor has valid insurance, bonding, licenses and other credentials that qualify the company for the proposed work. "References are vital," he said. "Ask about recently completed projects similar to your own. Get homeowner names and contact information. Most important, check these out to assure they are up-to-date and accurate." Dewhurst noted the following as the essential questions for the consumer to ask referred clients about the services of a general contractor:

  • Did the contractor maintain open communication throughout the project? Did they keep you informed as to the status of the project, problems encountered, or changes necessary before making them?
  • Were workers on time? Was the work site cleaned at the end of each day?
  • Were there unexpected costs or time delays? If so, what and why?
  • Was the project completed on time?
  • Were you satisfied with the overall results of the completed project?
  • Would you hire the contractor again?

"The general contractor, obviously, is going to put the consumer in touch with satisfied clients," said Dewhurst. "Ask the contractor about the challenges he's faced with past clients in getting the work completed on time and within budget. This may provide more insight into how the contractor thinks and works."

As with any service provider, licensed or otherwise, there can be a significant variance in skills and honor. The following "red flags" may indicate the contractor is less reputable, professional or responsible than what you might desire.

  • Pressures you for a quick hiring decision
  • Requests that YOU obtain the required building permits
  • Accepts only cash payments
  • Solicits door-to-door
  • Quotes a price without seeing the job
  • Offers only lifetime warranties (which are only as good as the life of the company)
  • Requires a large down payment to buy materials
  • Offers a discount for an on-the-spot decision
  • Wants to use materials for your project left over from a previous job
  • Has no business number in the local telephone directory
  • Provides only a P.O. Box address in lieu of a physical address
  • Suggests you borrow money for the project from a lender he knows
  • Tells you the job will be a "demonstration"
  • Offers discounts for finding other customers
  • Requests complete payment upfront

Dewhurst stressed that the consumer should make sure the general contractor has a sales tax ID number and a valid license or permit if any are required for the type of project planned. Also assure that if the contractor has employees, they are covered with workers' compensation insurance so the consumer is protected should such an employee be injured on the job.

"You should agree on the payment schedule so there is no misunderstanding once the project gets underway."
Dewhurst also emphasized that the consumer should not make final payment or sign off on the final release until work completed meets agreed upon specifications and building code requirements.

"Also assure," he said, "that all subcontractors have been paid so they don't come back to you to meet their shortfall." The contract itself should be carefully scrutinized before signing.

"Make sure everything is clear and in writing," he said. "Verbal contracts are worthless if a dispute arises." The contract should be signed by both parties. "The contract should protect the interests of both the consumer and the service provider," he said. In the end, everyone wants the same thing, said Dewhurst: "top quality work that meets specifications, remains within cost and is completed as scheduled."

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