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You and your contractor

It’s a brief and intense relationship — how to get it right


The pipes burst. The roof leaks. The furnace is on the fritz.

If you’re a homeowner — even a skilled DIY handy homeowner — if you live in your home long enough, at some point there may be a project for which you need to call in the professionals.

“You’re buying much more than a service when you are looking for a contractor,” said John Gemmi, owner of Gemmi Construction, Inc. in Buckingham.

He said it pays to start off on the right foot with a home and construction contractor — and with the right client mindset.

That means having a solid understanding of the project — large or small — before looking for and approaching potential contractors as partners with you to improve your home and your enjoyment of it.

Gemmi recommends those prospect contact calls revolve around process — before price.

“Don’t ask for an estimate at the start, ask about the contractor’s process — about how they work,” he said.

Calls that begin with a request to understand the contractor’s process for design, development, estimating and project execution yield better results, Gemmi explained.

“What is the process to create a successful project — now that’s my favorite client,” he added.

Before you begin the search for the right contractor, Gemmi recommends a short list of questions to ask those you’ll contact:

• How long has the contractor been in business?

• How many employees does the company have?

• Do employees drive company trucks?

• What is the company’s track record for holding completion schedules?

• Is a foreman on site — at least part of the time?

• Does the company you’ll be hiring hire subcontractors?

• Is the project a fixed-cost job and how are costs handled outside the agreed-to price quoted?

• Is the business insured?

• Can the business provide a portfolio of projects that includes one similar to what’s proposed?

About references

Don’t just ask for references, check them. Call or email past clients and ask about their contractor experiences.

Gemmi said if he was a prospective client these are among the questions he’d be asking construction company references:

• Did the contractor start and finish on time?

• How did the contractor handle something that went wrong?

• Did they honor the pricing on a fixed cost project?

• How were price changes communicated? Were clients told in advance of money spent?

• How was the estimation process?

• How were change orders handled?

• How was money exchanged, and who was your point of contact?

• Was the job kept neat and clean at the end of each day?

• Did the sales, project manager or owner visit the job site?

• How were the subcontractors — plumber, electric and painter — on the site? Were they easy with which to work?

Tips to finding a contractor

Gemmi suggests checking social media feeds and reading reviews.

Ask family, friends and business contacts for referrals and recommendations, too.

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry has local chapter websites and is a professional contractor organization offering resources, industry accreditation, training and workforce development.

Gemmi recommends using the site to identify a NARI local chapter to tap NARI-certified contractors for your project.

“NARI contractors abide by a code of ethics, and NARI offer certifications. Pick three or four contractors and request a phone interview,” Gemmi said.

Gemmi said many consumers start with an architect — especially for additions and larger renovation projects — in most cases he doesn’t recommend this approach.

While the architect will likely have a list of construction contractors, the architect’s role is different from a construction company’s part in a home build or remodeling project.

“Architectural plans and designs may not take into account the cost of the project” and they may or may not know what your particular municipal zoning allows, Gemmi said.

“I suggest meeting with a couple contractors, understand the project, investment range and be open and realistic about your budget —– before you go to the architect,” he said.

Discussing the budget at the first or second meeting will save time during the search for a contractor.

“If you talk to the contractor first and put the budget on the table, and if you’re talking to the right contractor, you’ll know if it will work,” he said.

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