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10 Qualities to Look for in a Contractor

Maintenance Contractor

Making renovations to your condominium association can be an exciting undertaking. When you envision the changes, it brings you joy! However, you cannot make all of the changes on your own if construction and remodeling is not your specialty. There are also restrictions and risks involved with a board member or unit owner directly performing repairs on a common element of a condo building. In most cases you will need to hire someone to complete the job for your association. When your board is ready to hire a contractor, take these 10 pointers into consideration.

1. Licensed, Bonded, Insured

These official pieces of paper can make a big difference when legal questions and issues arise. It is important for your contractor to have the required licenses, bonds, and insurance required by the State of Illinois. Without them, you could face financial and legal difficulties in the event of a dispute between you and the contractor. 

A license establishes that your contractor meets important state standards, and you can check with the Illinois registrar to determine whether or not a contractor is licensed. A bond, or surety bond, protects the homeowner should the contractor default or never finish the job. Insurance protects the contractor and their employees if someone is injured on the job. Together, the license, bond, and insurance create a strong net of protection for all parties involved.

2. Transparent Pricing

A contractor with a set list of prices displays preparedness, transparency, and effective communication. With a list of prices, expectations are set appropriately; without, you may be left wondering whether the contractor is trying to “get one over on you.”

Estimates are another important part of transparent pricing. A detailed estimate that categorizes where and how costs are incurred provides an important baseline for project costs.

During construction, unexpected costs may arise, but with a set pricing list and a detailed estimate you will be in a better position to determine the scope and appropriateness of any excess charges.

3. Communicates Well

It is important for contractors to keep an open line of communication with homeowners so you are apprised of progress, aware of any issues, and have the opportunity to ask questions. You can often gauge the contractor’s ability to communicate effectively during the estimate or bidding process. If a contractor is difficult to get in touch with when providing an estimate or a bid, it may be a red flag for their ability to communicate during the project itself when communication becomes even more important.

4. Work Guaranteed

A contractor who provides a guarantee of their work is making a statement that they strive for quality and will stand behind their work product. Guarantees come in all shapes and sizes – for example, a contractor may guarantee to fix any problems that arise within a period of time or issue a partial refund for unsatisfactory work – so be sure you understand the type of guarantee being offered. Just as important as the guarantee itself, a guarantee is often a good indicator of a contractor’s standards for quality control and can offer peace of mind.

5. Good Reviews

What are other people saying about the contractors that you considering hiring? A thorough search of online review websites like Google, Yelp, Angie’s List, and Home Advisor that include real reviews of people's’ experiences with a contractor can provide an important guidepost when evaluating a contractor. While any individual review can be biased, based on unreasonable expectations, or glowingly positive due to a reviewer’s low expectations, the overall trend of a contractor’s reviews, the type of work being reviewed, and whether the same issues crop up repeatedly can be helpful when trying to determine whether a contractor is a good fit for you and your project.

6. Lien Waivers

A quality contractor should understand and be able to address your concerns about their relationship with subcontractors. The contractor’s relationship with subcontractors is important because an unpaid subcontractor may file for a mechanics lien on your property in an effort to receive compensation for product or services provided to you through the contractor.

To avoid such liens a contractor should be willing to provide a signed lien release or waiver for each subcontractor that will prevent them from placing a lien on your property and delaying your construction’s progress.

7. Thorough Project Description

A project description should include the specific work that is that will completed, brands and materials that will be used, and a timeline and work schedule. Unexpected changes will occur, and timelines are never exact, but they are a good measure of how long a project should take, provide an important baseline to track the progress of the project, and help establish appropriate expectations for both you and the contractor.

8. Signed Legal Documents

Write it out plain and sign it! If your contractor is unwilling to create a legal and binding contract detailing the work, prices, and timeline that you agree upon, you should think twice about hiring them for your project. Written contracts are essential for the protection of both the contractor and the condo association and should be deemed necessary by a reputable contractor.

9. Portfolio

A portfolio of a contractor’s past work can help you better understand the type and quality of work a contractor can perform. Keep in mind, though, that the contractor is (or at least should be) putting forth their best work in a portfolio. As a result, it can be useful to ask to see evidence of work over a period of time to gauge consistency or improvement as well as to ask for an example of quality work that did not make it into their portfolio.

10. Specialty Contractor

General contractors can be helpful for basic work of if they work with subcontractors who specialize in specific areas of work. However, in many cases, working a specialty contractor may be the way to go because many areas of work require specialized knowledge of products, legal codes, and problem solving strategies. Whether or not you decide to work with a general contractor or a specialty contractor, it’s helpful for the contractor to have substantial experience with your type of project.

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