Published in the ECHO Journal, October 2009
Members of ECHO’s Maintenance Panel address from time to time a specific maintenance concern that many associations face. These concerns come to the panel from communications with the Panel members and the ECHO Office. Resource Panels are established partially to help member directors get answers to their questions. If you have a question or concern about maintenance informative, please—Ask The Panel!
We want to hire a contractor to replace some siding, rebuild some rotted decks and do some waterproofing. Our management company has given us the name of a general contractor that they use, but we aren’t comfortable with the contractor and we want to look at other companies. What are the things that we should look for, to be sure that we hire a company that meets our needs?
This answer was provided by Dick Tippett of ERTECH, Inc., a general construction contractor:
Matching the contractor to the type of work you want done, to the size of the project and to the personality of your board is critical to the success of any project. You will be spending a lot of money and a lot of time together. There needs to be a bond of both professional respect and professional trust.
We suggest that you develop a list of at least five contractors who do the type of work that you want done. ECHO is a good source of names, as are referrals from your manager, acquaintances at other associations, the Contractors Blue Book, even the Yellow Pages.
Once you have your list, invite each of them to an interview with your board. Plan at least an hour per contractor for the interview. Here are nine questions to ask each company. The answers they give will tell you a lot about whether or not you want them bidding on your work.
- How long have they been in business? Eighty percent of contractors go out of business in fewer than five years. The same thing that made a man a great foreman doesn’t always make a sound business manager. Prudence dictates sticking with businesses that are at least five to seven years old.
- Do they do the type of work that you want done? Not every contractor does every type of work, although more and more are developing relationships with specialty subcontractors such as waterproofers or stucco installers. Conversely, you don’t need a general contractor just to do waterproofing or painting.
- Do they do projects the size of yours? Smaller contractors may not have the financial strength to take on multimillion dollar projects. Conversely, larger contractors with large overhead can’t always be competitive on small projects or may not be able to do them efficiently.
- What is their professional reputation? This is best learned from others—their references, their competitors, their suppliers. A corollary is: what is their reputation and their experience in working with condominiums or townhouses.
- Will they warrant their work for five years? All major repairs/remodeling work must be guaranteed against fault or failure for five years. Many contractors do their best to sidestep this requirement by offering shorter warranties. Don’t accept bids from those that do.
- Financial stability, or do they pay their bills on time? Find out from whom the contractors regularly buy material and whom they regularly use as subcontractors. Then call those suppliers/subcontractors and learn the length of time they have been working with the contractor and how quickly the contractor pays them. If the relationship has existed for a year or less, or the contractor is a slow payer, be careful.
- Can they do the work when you want it done? Can they start and finish within the time frame that you want? There must be a firm commitment from the contractor to both start and finish “on time.”
- Is their license current? Are there any complaints against it? Is it held by one of the company’s principals? Ask them these questions, then check the answer at www.cslb.ca.gov. Click on “contractor information” and go to “license status check.” The license should be current, clear of complaints and held by a principal or key employee.
- Do they carry insurance, and what type do they carry? Incredibly, California does not require contractors to carry liability insurance. You should. At minimum, any contractor that you hire should have at least $1,000,000 general liability insurance, at least $1,000,000 Workman’s Compensation and at least $300,000 vehicular insurance.
Satisfactory answers to these nine questions will go a long way to ensuring that you select a contracting business that can meet your association’s construction needs.