I'm having a hard time finding a general contractor to bid on a repair/remodel project in my house in the city of Philadelphia. Here's what I've tried:
• Asking our neighbors
• Talking to friends
• Contacting our architect (his contacts are all outside of the city limits and unwilling to work within it)
Anyone have any ideas of how I might go about locating a reliable general contractor?
Stop by a real local lumber yard, not a chain box store.
Most will have a board with peoples cards on them and there going to know who does good work and pays there bill on time.
When I first moved into my community and needed contractors, I contacted the building department to find out who did a lot of work in this area. Given that they inspect the work, they would also know who was good and who wasn't. I would think that Philly would have a decent sized inspection unit, so that's one option.
Some people rely on Angie's List. I actually found a contractor listed with whom I had spoken and decided not to hire him, for various reasons. So it's kind of a toss-up whether you want to rely on recommendations of a commercial site and people you don't know.
Pennsylvania probably has a licensing department which deals with licensing for various building trades. I doubt if they would give you a specific recommendation, but you probably could find out who to avoid by inquiring/checking which contractors had been censured or had licenses revoked. It's also a way to check to ensure that anyone you do hire is licensed.
The BBB maintains a dispute resolution program for participating contractors. There would be limited information available, but you could determine if a particular contractor who is a candidate had ever had problems which were or weren't resolved.
After you narrow down your list, get estimates and meet and spend some time with each potential contractor. You can learn a lot about how they approach a project by the way they interact with a potential client.
Some with whom I met were eliminated right away because they assumed that a female could be bossed around and that they could change the scope to their liking. Bad idea.
I also had a prepared work scope so everyone was operating from the same basic work I wanted done.
JoeCaption and GardenSprite have provided great suggestions. I would also suggest that, when looking for recommendations, be as specific as possible. I found that some contractors that were recommended for siding actually had little or no experience with James Hardie installations (which is what I was interested in).
Learn as much as you can about the work that needs to be done. That way, when you're interviewing contractors, you'll know who is "blowing smoke". As an example, one of the contractors did not know the correct clearance above grade for Hardie siding.
Ask for references and check them out. I looked at a home that one of the contractors listed as a reference/example of his work. I didn't like the quality of workmanship at all.
When it comes to the estimate, if a detail is not listed, it is not included! Don't assume anything.
For what it's worth, around 9 years ago we hired a contractor based on the recommendations of people we knew. The guy did an OK job, but the details were not what my wife nor I would have liked (for example, slightly skewed cabinet handles, variation in grout width). I wished I had seen a sample of his work beforehand.
Also, for what it's worth, I didn't hire anyone to do the Hardie install. The cost of material and labor was too high for us. The one with the reference that displayed poor workmanship was the cheapest. The one with the best references was the most expensive; by a LOT!
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