We are working with clients who had to fire a San Francisco contractor and are hiring a new one. They were not happy with the first one’s performance and now are looking for guidance on how to select the right one who will finish the job. From our experience, the cost estimate a GC provides is just a small portion of what counts in evaluating one. Also in our experience, good contractors who do custom residential are all going to be comparable in their price range since they are all in the same market and probably use the same subs.
The selection of a building contractor is a process. Here is a list of key factors that will help influence the decision on who to hire. It begins with an interview. The street goes both ways, ask them what is their expectation of you the owner as you are evaluating what your expectations are of them. Do they understand why last one got fired? If a contractor is not performing, it most likely a question of bad project management. Understand since time is money, management costs money. Once there is a lack of management and things go wrong, then there becomes a lack of trust, also a key factor in finding the right fit in your San Francisco contractor.
Project management is part of the service a GC should provide. A clear budget will outline the cost associated with management and also which person on staff is managing the project and for how many hours. It will also include an estimate for the job supervisor. If its not clear, then it needs to be discussed. There is always some management and the team should know what that management costs. Proper project management will allow for clarity about how decisions and answers affect cost and schedule. Information needs to flow clearly and the project manager is the facilitator of that flow.
We think the key to a successful project is when a GC has a schedule and sticks to it. It has to be realistic and carefully planned. Ask the GC for examples and discuss their logic behind how they put a schedule together. There are always factors that affect it, too. Probably the number one thing that affects schedule is indecision and often this involves owners. Which items are you certain about and which ones are you not so sure about? A good GC will clarify what decisions need to be made for what items in sequence and will provide deadlines for the team. Another way of describing this is the term critical path. It gives everyone an idea of when things need to be decided. There are also minor changes to the design that may come up from owners, designers or architects. The GC should not resist changes but just be straight and diplomatic that those changes will have an associated cost.
The selection of GC is a chemistry thing. Observe their temperament. You want someone who is calm and does not add drama to an already stressful and complicated process. A contractor also has to have the temperament to work with your personality and the design team. Can they rally the subcontractors to perform to the right standards of quality and be on schedule? You want a team member. Do they understand your expectations? Someone who is interested in the craft and and wants to do this unique project is a better fit than someone who doesn’t care.