What are you looking for? For most people considering hiring a contractor the first question is "How much will it cost?" followed by "How long will it take?" Of course everyone wants a quality job. To avoid headaches and regrets there are several things to consider.
In my experience, people who haven't hired contractors before are more likely to emphasize low price thinking there couldn't be much difference in the quality. Those who have hired contractors before will have a different outlook. These "seasoned" homeowners might have had problems or had seen work that didn't look quite right and so they're determined not to repeat the same hiring mistake.
You might assume that as long as there is a permit from the local building department, all should be good, they will catch any sub-par work during an inspection and require it to be done right. That would be assuming too much. Recently while discussing the poor quality of work I saw at a home in a very affluent local town, the building inspector said to me "the building code is just one step away from prosecution." Another way to think of it is - if you are satisfied with a D on a test or in your class, build it to code. That is what you will get. Building codes are the minimum requirement and are mainly concerned with safety. They are not always up to speed on best construction practices and are not at all concerned with craftsmanship or the architectural design.
Here's one of many examples we have seen: Recently one of our past customers called and asked us to look at a couple of water leakage issues. We worked on their previous home and they had since moved into a beautiful $1M+ newer home. Their new home is loaded with high-end features and finishes. It seemed the builder spared no expense. What those beautiful finishes don't show is the quality (or lack of) underneath it all. A 2nd story deck off the kitchen was built over a ground level screened porch. There were water stains on the ceiling of the screened porch. We removed part of the ceiling to verify, water was coming in from above. We continued, working our way up.
Removal of the decking above revealed this:
Using only our bare hands in the worst areas we continued removal of the rotted plywood roof. Luckily the joists are treated wood.
The builder had used average materials when constructing the roof and deck, adequate to do the job, but didn't pay enough attention to the details. They relied on caulk to seal the joint between the roofing material and the brick house. This along with other poor methods used was a recipe for disaster showing up 8 years after the home was built.
After replacing the entire roof plywood we installed a better one-piece roofing material folded up the wall and copper flashed properly to the house.
Quality work doesn't always cost a lot more. Certain details will have little or no extra cost, while others can be considerable. In this case the added flashing and other easy detailing was all it would have taken to avoid a costly repair. Homeowners who typically have little knowledge of construction details (why should they?) have to rely on their contractor for help. Many contractors/builders unfortunately will settle for inferior workmanship to keep their costs down, look good to the homeowner, and to be awarded the job.
We know the cost of a construction project is always going to be important. We try to be as competitive as we can without sacrificing quality. This takes constant effort on our part researching the latest tools, materials, building science, and production ideas. When considering contractors ask for recommendations, the more he can offer the better. Go and see some jobs and ask how the contractor was to work with. And like most other purchases you make, a low initial price could very well cost you more later.
In the end the integrity and experience of your contractor should be your first priority.
Packey A'Hearn, President
Acorn Custom Builders, Inc.