Hiring a contractor pt 1: Plans and scope of work
Probably the second-most daunting (I would consider financing to be the most daunting) part of starting a big project is finding the right person to do the job. This person will be responsible for what is likely your single largest investment: your home. He/She will be responsible for how the money is spent, staying on time and on budget, and making sure the work is done correctly and safely. The decision to take on a project and hire a professional is a biggie. You are ready to invest a lot of money and a lot of time into this project, you are likely ready to move your family out of your home, or in the very least, live very uncomfortably while this project is underway and you are wisely choosing to hire a pro because although you both may love HGTV, you know you wouldn't trust yourself or your hubby with a jackhammer, especially not in YOUR bathroom. Besides, ain't nobody got time for that!
So how do you know you can trust this guy (or girl)? Everybody knows somebody who has been "screwed" over by a contractor. Texas does not license contractors at State level, and although most cities require a contractor's registration, there is no education, no test, only some (but not all) cities even require a background check or insurance. In most cases, just fill out the form, pay the fee and BOOM: you are now a contractor. So how can you, the homeowner, make sure this person doesn't come in, tear up your house, spend all your money, and leave you high and dry? To me, your first line of defense is the contract.
The contract between you and the contractor should set all the expectations for the entire project and include (at minimum):
Plan and Scope of work
Draw Schedule and/or payment structure
Legal responsibilities of both parties.
The State of Texas also requires certain disclosures to be attached to your contract which can be found here.
I'll be writing a series of posts about each component of a good construction contract. For now, I will start with the Plan and Scope of Work.
The Plan and scope of work.
This part of the contract is probably the most overlooked yet the most important part of project planning. The plan and scope of work must be established first in order for anything else to be even remotely accurate; a contractor cannot make a budget and timeline for a project with only a vague idea of what work is expected. (Oh you never said you wanted a toilet in your bathroom, that's going to cost you extra.) A plan takes time and communication with the customer to be accurate, so unless you already have extremely detailed architectural drawings from a third party, your contractor should have some means of developing and communicating an accurate scope of work that meets your expectations. Besides, he/she will need drawings to take to get permits from the city; if he isn't already thinking about permits, that's a big red flag.
You plan should be a visual representation of the work to be performed. The plan should include:
For new construction:
window and door schedules
exterior elevations of every side of the home
electrical, plumbing and HVAC plans identifying fixture locations
site plan based on survey or plat showing how the proposed structure relates to the property
*your plans may also include interior elevations and renderings to illustrate details such as cabinetry. This is not necessarily required for permitting.
*For remodels and additions, you will also need an existing floorplan and demolition plan detailing any walls that will be removed.
Here are some examples:
Your scope of work should detail every step of your contractor's proposed process from start to finish. This should identify all areas your contractor is planning to take responsibility for, and what items (if any) you will be expected to be responsible for. I like to combine our budget and scope of work into one document, that way I can make sure no step is left out.
If you'd like to learn more about what is required for permitting, check out these helpful links!
The City of Fort Worth Building plan requirements click here
What projects require a permit? (FW version) click here
City of Dallas New Construction Checklist click here
City of Dallas Remodel Checklist click here
Read why we started charging for design and contract development upfront, and why this has been a game-changer for us and our customers.