Idea Architects Logo

How to select a General Contractor

Selecting a General Contractor can be very intimidating, but we have generated this list of recommendations to help guide you in this selection process.  Whether you want to expand your business or your home, the steps needed to select a good qualified general contractor are very similar.

Word of mouth recommendations:

This is often your best source of finding good contractors.  Obviously the source of the referral should be considered when evaluating potential contractors.  We suggest you ask trusted friends, family and colleagues that have recently undertaken similar projects.  We also always recommend relying on your Architect for recommendations, regardless of who the architect is, they should have built good relationships with reputable contractors and should be eager to make several recommendations.


associated contractors of americaTrade Associations:

The local chapters of various trade associations are a good source of referrals.  Depending on the type of project you are planning should inform you on the trade association in which you should contact?

Residential Projects should refer to trade associations that are specific to residential construction such as the Homebuilders Association (HBA), National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), etc.

Commercial Construction projects should refer to local chapters of trade associations like the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA), or even refer to 3rd party trade organizations for recommendations like The American Institute of Architects (AIA), Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA), etc.

As you can see there is a plethora of organizations that represent contractors in your specific area of interest.  Now keep in mind membership in any of these organizations does not guarantee future results, but it does create a likelihood that they are reputable company.


Do your Homework:

bbbBefore contacting any of the prospective contractors check out who you are considering.  There are many free and / or online resources.  Call the Better Business Bureau to inquire into their standing and see if any complaints have been filed against them.  If you’re in Missouri you can check any past or pending litigation  (other states should have similar online court case search engines - check with your specific state.)  A couple of infractions should not necessarily disqualify a potential candidate, but repeated litigation should be a red flag.  In this digital age websites that require memberships for residential projects like Angies list can also be a very valuable resource.

Generate your Shortlist:

You should have compiled a list of 3-5 prospective contractors.  Contact them to set up a meeting.  Some of the important questions to ask are below.  Their responses should be able to satisfactorily answer your questions while putting you at ease.  Good communication and a good comfort level should be the things you are looking for at this point.  Do not discount your gut instincts.  If it does not feel right it is probably not a good fit. 

  1. Have you done many projects like mine? How many and when were they completed.  Can I tour some of them?
  2. How busy are you? When would you be available to begin working on our project?
  3. How many other projects would be going on at the same time?
  4. How long have you worked with your subcontractors?
  5. Would my project have a full time superintendent?
  6. What work will be self-performed?
  7. Ask for references (clients and subcontractors) and check on them. Verify with the subcontractors they are paid in a timely fashion.
  8. Ask to walk through a current project. Look to see how clean and organized the jobsite is.  Is there loud music?  Are there smokers?  Can I request they only smoke in a designated area and pick up all of their butts? (important for renovation/addition projects)
  9. Are you insured and bonded? Make sure you are listed as an additional insured prior to commencement of the project.


Selecting your Delivery:

Depending upon your project delivery this can be done a number of ways.   Below are two of the most common delivery methods outlined broken down into a very simple manner.   There are many different ways to structure both of these methods, but these should give you a basic understanding of the pros and cons of each.

  1. Most residential and light commercial projects in the St. Louis area are built using a design build delivery method. This typically means the contractor and Architect work collaboratively at the onset of the project to maintain better control of the construction costs, streamline the process and you select the team you want to work with from the beginning.  This typically means the contract for the construction is negotiated with the contractor at the onset of the project or the contractor can bid the project to their sub-contractors in an open book fashion so all of the numbers are transparent and the contractor then adds his markup to the total cost.
  2. The conventional design-bid-build delivery is most often done for public projects which typically require competitive bidding or it is done for larger private projects. The process is very regimented in that it requires the Architectural and engineering drawings to be completed, then bid out to multiple General Contractors (usually 2-3), the bids are then evaluated and a contractor is selected. 

Once the contractor has been selected the a contract will need to be signed that spells out exactly what will be done, including a proposed start date and an anticipated completion date, acceptable working hours, deadlines, progress payment schedule, list of subcontractors, list of major material suppliers, acceptable insurance coverages, workers compensation payments, expectations of lien waivers and receipts for material, which bathroom will be used, where the contractor can stage the construction, and the exact materials that will be used down to the model numbers and who will provide which material and or equipment. If the contractor’s contract is not detailed enough, write up your own or provide addendums. Any change in the project, whether you change your mind about products or ask for additional work to be done a written change order that includes a description of the new work, materials, cost and change in the amount of time to the original contract.

Note: We strongly recommend consulting your legal counsel before entering into any contractual agreement.


Get the proper permits and approvals:

Nearly all construction projects require permits. Depending upon the scope of work and the municipality, municipal presentations and / or meeting s may be required such as Architectural Review Board (ARB), Planning and Zoning (P&Z), Conditional Use Permits (CUP), Board of Adjustments (BoA), City Council or Board of Alderman meetings.  It may be suggested that the job be done without permits to save time and / or money. Not only does that violate local ordinances and subject you to fines if you’re caught, it means the work will not be inspected by the city or county to make sure it’s up to code. Be wary of contractors who ask you to get the permits – that’s the contractor’s job. Unpermitted work can also cause problems when it’s time to sell.


paymentThe contract should include a payment schedule and triggers for progress payments.  No matter how careful you are in preparing for the project, there will be surprises that will add to the cost. We always recommend carrying a 10-20% contingency in your budget.  Do not make the final payment until you are completely satisfied with the work and have all the lien releases and receipts.