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Investor Insights Blog|How Can I Get the Most Out of a Contractor Visit?

Real Estate

How Can I Get the Most Out of a Contractor Visit?

The following was written by guest blogger Jack Cookson of BuildZoom.

Jack Cookson BuildZoom
Jack Cookson of BuildZoom

One of the most important parts of picking a contractor or architect for your real estate project is the site visit. (Throughout this article we use the word contractor, but almost all of the below applies to meeting an architect as well.) The site visit serves many functions, such as:

  1. It gives the contractor an opportunity to see the site, which gives them the ability to understand the project beyond plans.
  2. It is an opportunity to interview the contractor.
  3. It lets you gauge what it would be like to work with the contractor.
  4. It allows you to sell yourself and the project. Remember that great contractors are often in high demand, and they’ll be assessing you as well.

Despite being a crucial step in the hiring process, the site visit is often overlooked or not fully utilized. Here are some tips on how to make the most out of these visits, so you can avoid pitfalls down the line and set yourself up to make the most informed decision.

Scheduling time

While contractor site visits can vary, they generally take between thirty minutes to an hour. To make the most out of these visits, we recommend scheduling them back-to-back or in as close succession as possible — a shorter time frame helps you compare and evaluate the contractors more accurately. Keep in mind it can be awkward to have two contractors run into each other. If you do schedule interviews back-to-back, leave a little buffer; 30 minutes should be enough.

There is nothing worse than being stood up. To stop this from happening, make sure to confirm the meeting. We’ve found that a text message confirmation 24 hours ahead of time is the best way to do this.

What to do ahead of time

These visits are often short, so preparing ahead can go a long way.

  1. Send the contractor your plans and ideas to review ahead of time. The more you have, the better. By the time this meeting comes around the contractor should already have a pretty good idea of what you are trying to do.
  2. Ask them to check with the local building department and building code regarding your project. They should have a rough idea for what you can and can’t do before showing up.
  3. Prepare your questions. You will obviously not be able to prepare everything, but having an outline is helpful (See below).

What to pay attention to during the meeting

  1. Did they come prepared? Did they look at your plans, etc.? Their level of preparation is indicative of what it will be like working with them.
  2. Did they actively engage with the property? Did you feel they really got a good sense for the space?
    Things to look for: measuring spaces, asking about the current materials and previous remodels, and looking at things from different angles.
  3. Additionally, consider grading the contractor on four different criteria:

Criteria to grade a contractor

General requirements

Are they a good contractor in general? Do they do good work generally? Do they have experience and are they experienced? Do they seem to know what they are talking about?

Project-related

Are they a good fit for this specific project? Have they done similar projects in the past? Do they know how to execute this type of work? What about in your neighborhood and under your planning and building code?

Logistics

Are they organized, responsive, and professional? A successful construction project involves a lot more than just the ability to build. These things matter!

Personality and working together

Are they a good personality fit for you? You are going to work closely with this person for a while. Assume problems and unforeseen issues will arise. Would you feel comfortable having this person be the one who walks you through those issues? Make sure you like them, trust them, and that they also feel comfortable enough to disagree with you or push back a little at times.

What questions to ask

As with any good interview, you should prepare questions ahead of time and assess candidates on similar criteria. We’ve found that asking the same questions to each contractor is the best way to compare.

Questions for your architect

  1. How comfortable are you with the planning process? How much support will you give me through the process?
  2. Do you charge me a fee or per hour?
  3. How long have you been designing homes?
  4. Have you designed any homes in the area? Walk me through a specific project in detail.
  5. What style of homes do you normally design? Walk me through your design process. How involved will I be?
  6. What do changes to design look like? How do we iterate on the design?
  7. Do you have a past client I can speak to?
  8. Are you in charge of engineers and other specialists or does that responsibility fall on me?
  9. How closely do you work with the builders?
  10. How long do you stay involved in the process?
  11. How do you keep budget in mind while designing?

Questions for your contractor

General

  1. How long have you been in business? How long have you been in the industry?
  2. Can you describe your ideal project?
  3. Can you walk me through your overall process? Take me through the major milestones from here until the project is finished.
  4. Do you have any kind of warranty and insurance if any kind of accidents were to happen on the site, for both property and people?
  5. How many other projects are you working on/plan to work on?
  6. How big is your team?
    (You want to know how many people will be working on your project. The general contractor will likely hire subcontractors for the work, which is normal, but it is important to know how large their crew is and how many people will be staffed for your project.)
  7. What work do you sub out and what work do you perform in-house?
  8. What is your license number?
  9. Will you send me proof of insurance and bonding?
  10. Do you have any references I can talk to?

Project-related

  1. What is a recent project you completed that feels the most similar to this one? Dive into one project in detail.
    (Each construction project is different with its own challenges and intricacies. Make sure this isn’t the first time the contractor has worked on a project similar to yours.)
  2. Have you ever done any projects in the area? If so, how familiar are you with the permitting and planning processes? What issues do you anticipate with the building department for this project?
  3. What is the most common issue you’ve seen with projects like this?
  4. Will you walk me through what the timeline for this project would look like?

Logistics

  1. When would you likely be able to start this project?
  2. What does your payment schedule look like?
  3. Do you generally work on projects cost-plus or fixed price?
  4. What is the best way to contact you? How can I contact you after hours if needed?
  5. Who is the foreman for this job? And who will be my primary contact for the project?
  6. Will you have a dedicated team working on this project, or do your teams work on multiple projects at once?
  7. In an ideal situation, when in the process do you join the project?
    (Some contractors prefer to be involved early, while others prefer to come in right before construction starts. Neither is necessarily better than the other, but it does make sense to understand how their preference fits your project.)
  8. How involved will you be in the design process?
    (Contractors can be a great resource for estimating and understanding building feasibility during the design process. See if yours will be involved and what that means.)
  9. Will you obtain all permits and handle working with the local building department?
    (Most contractors will help you get all permits and approvals. Navigating the building department is a challenging process that contractors can help with.)
  10.  How do you track and update on progress? I know some contractors use Gantt charts and other tools, do you use anything like that?
    (You want to stay informed throughout the entire project. Good contractors have a process to track progress and keep you in the loop.)

Personality and working together

  1. How do you handle issues when they arise? Have you ever had any problems with other homeowners? If so, how did you resolve them? Can you tell a specific story?
    (Issues are likely to arise, so you should plan for them before the project starts. Good contractors still have issues, but they handle them well. Learn how and when you and your contractor will communicate. Learn how they will assess problems, identify them early, and deal with them before they grow out of control. Ask for specific examples from past projects. If they say they’ve never had any problems on any of their past projects, that’s a red flag!)
  2. Have you ever been behind schedule on a project? If so, what steps did you take to remedy that?
  3. How do they handle changes (Changes to construction projects are referred to as change orders) to the project if necessary or requested?

(Let’s face it, your project will likely change a little as you go. Before you start, you should understand how your contractor handles and bills change orders. You don’t want to be surprised by project changes that the contractor is forced to make. You also want to understand how any changes you want to make will be implemented.)

What contractors look for in clients

The visit is a two-way interview. Like you, the contractor is evaluating whether your project is a good fit for their business. You definitely want to dive in to understand a lot about them, but also remember to show that you will be a great client to work with. Be presentable, reliable, and professional. A contractor is looking for:

  • Someone that has their ducks in a row. A little homework and planning can go a long way here.
  • Someone that can make decisions.
  • Someone that will not micromanage.
  • Someone with realistic expectations
  • Someone that can pay their bills.
  • Someone that is a good personality fit.
  • Someone who is good at communicating and resolving conflict or disagreements

How to finish things up

  • Bring up any reservations you have. Give them a chance to address your hesitations about working with them
  • Set concrete next steps
  • Send a follow-up email with notes and next steps

While some of this might seem like a lot, preparing well for the site walkthrough will make a difference. Hopefully, at this point, you are prepared to have a productive site visit and gain more information about your contractor before you hire.

Build with peace of mind

Building or remodeling a home can be a chaotic and stressful undertaking. BuildZoom’s premium service for residential projects will empower you to reduce risks, make informed decisions, and savemoney.

Request a Consultation with BuildZoom

About Jack Cookson

Jack Cookson is in charge of growth at BuildZoom. A San Francisco native, Jack is an urbanist who loves people, mobility, and geography. He believes in data as information that is made elegant through visualization. In his spare time, you can find Jack surfing, skiing, rock climbing, or at a concert.

 

1

Can my IRA purchase real estate that I currently own?

No. This is considered a prohibited transaction (see IRC 4975). You may not purchase a property, or interest in a property, that’s currently owned by a disqualified person, which includes yourself.

2

Am I restricted to only purchasing residential property with my IRA?

You are not limited to residential real estate. Your IRA can hold various investment properties such as commercial buildings, vacant land, condominiums, mobile homes and apartment buildings, in addition to residential property.

As Equity Trust Company (“Equity Trust”) is a directed custodian, like any investment, it is your responsibility to conduct your own due diligence before investing and before choosing a provider that is right for you. Equity Trust may, from time to time, establish independent contractor relationships with third-party providers, as described above, whereby you, as the IRA owner, can have access to third-party providers for services that may be beneficial to you. Equity Trust is not an affiliate of any such provider. Equity Trust makes no recommendation or representations as to any provider and service or the needs generally of any IRA owner or any IRA. Any service available from any provider that offers investment education or advice solely reflects the views of such provider and in no way represents any recommendation or advice from Equity Trust. Opinions or ideas expressed by third parties, their affiliates, and employees are not necessarily those of Equity Trust nor do they reflect their views or endorsement. IRA owners are in no way obligated to purchase services and IRA owners are free to choose a provider with services as they deem appropriate. IRA owners should consult with their financial and legal advisors before choosing to work with any provider.


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