When your business is hiring a contractor, there’s a lot more to consider than the bottom line on the bid. A capable contractor will have your new project open for business and generating revenue on schedule. They will help you navigate the permitting process and meet building code requirements, and they will coordinate with your team to keep operations humming throughout construction. This list of critical contractor skills will help you choose the best contractor for the job.
Solid References The Federal Trade Commission advises that a good contractor should be able to provide a portfolio of completed jobs. Make sure they have experience with projects similar to yours in both function and design. You don’t want your contractor learning as they go—that’s a recipe for cost overruns and delays.
If possible, visit some of their previous build-outs and talk to their former clients. Inspecting the work in person can tell you a lot about their build quality, and it’s a chance to get an objective opinion about the construction experience.
Permitting Experience The right contractor will have a thorough knowledge of your city’s zoning laws and building codes. An experienced contractor will be prepared to shepherd your project through its municipal review, reducing the risks that it will become stuck in permitting limbo.
A Detailed Timeframe Before signing a contract, you’ll want to agree on a detailed timeline for the construction process. Don’t settle for a completion date far in the future—get an estimate for when every major stage of construction will be completed. Construction Review Magazine recommends scheduling regular checkups with your contractor to keep your timeline realistic and up to date.
Quality Subs It's likely that a significant amount of the work on your project will be performed by subcontractors. So it’s good to find out about the crews that will be doing critical work. Ask who the contractor uses for key components like concrete, framing, plumbing, and electrical work. Research their reputation and find out if the contractor will always have a supervisor on site to make sure the job is done correctly.
Comprehensive Warranty Contractor Magazine writes that construction warranties can be complex, with detailed obligations and limited correction periods. Find out about the contractor’s policy for fixing problems with the work.
Attractive Architecture Who does the contractor’s architectural work? Curbed Magazine emphasizes the outsized role an architect plays in construction, from drawing up plans for permit approval to keeping the design within budget. If the contractor has an in-house architect or a preferred contractor, visit some of their previous build-outs and see if they’re what you envision.
Functional Fixtures Bob Vila writes that contractors often have preferred suppliers for fixtures like lighting, windows, plumbing and door handles. Using the contractor’s suppliers may get you a considerable discount and guaranteed delivery dates, but look through their catalogs and see if their selections will meet your project’s needs.
Coordinated Logistics Ask about how the construction process will affect your operations. The contractor may need a lay-down lot to stage equipment and materials, or they may need to interrupt utilities for nearby buildings. Electrical Contractor Magazine reports that poor coordination between contractors, subs, and ownership can be a major cause of conflict and delays. Find out how the construction process will impact your ongoing operations, and discuss how you can coordinate with the contractor to minimize disruptions.
Adequate Insurance Look into your contractor’s insurance and bonding. Commercial general liability coverage limits may not be sufficient to cover the potential damages from an accident on your job site. In the City of Chicago, for example, a contractor working on a $10 million project can carry as little as $3 million in liability coverage. You want to be sure you will be made whole if your property is damaged.
After a thorough discussion of these issues, you should have more insight into how a solid commercial contractor can be a valuable partner in the construction process.
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