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Choosing a Reputable Homebuilding/Remodeling Contractor

September 3, 2009
I recently received a call from someone looking for a contractor to build their home next spring and I was very impressed with their questions; they were doing their homework! Of course I was excited to hear from someone, anyone, looking to build in this "dry economy" but was just as eager to answer their questions because I was prepared and proud of the answers I would give.  I thought that this would be a great topic so I am offering some tips for those looking for a reputable contractor. When you begin to search for the right contractor for your home, how do you know who you can trust?...or who is the utmost professional?..or who is the most qualified? It is a big decision and it bears research. Your choice of contractor can determine whether your house becomes the home of your dreams . . . or your worst nightmare. First, it is recommended that you check into their credentials. You should begin by asking these questions of the contractor. A good, reputable contractor will be proud to answer these questions and requests and will do so with confidence, so do your homework! 1. What experience do they have? Do you want a contractor building your home, your biggest investment, when they have built less than 3 homes in their lifetime? Would you really buy a house from someone who has, until recently, been selling computers or installing landscaping? I think that you would want a career contractor. 2. Can they give you more than 5 references with phone numbers? 10 would be better, and you should call all of them. Did they build these homes for the customer or was it a spec (a home that was already built when they bought it?) If the home was built to suit, what was the experience during the build process? Was the contractor organized and did they communicate well and in a timely fashion? What warranty does the contractor offer and for how long? Finally, were they happy with the overall experience and would they recommend this contractor to you? 3. How long have they been in business? A seasoned contractor will have made it through 5 years and it shows that they have what it takes to be in business and that they will be around for you during the warranty period. 4. Can they give you at least 5 character, credit references? Bank, Chamber of Commerce, Realtor, Suppliers, etc. are critical references. Speaking of suppliers....does the contractor have good credit with them? This indicates two things: the contractor is organized and does not have cash flow problems that will affect you as the owner. Late paying could indicate that the contractor is having money problems and could walk away from your home with your money if these problems are too deep to fix. 5. Have they ever been arrested or convicted of a crime? This one is a challenging question, but one that bears asking. Imagine that you are a business owner or manager and you are hiring an employee to work for you. You want to know that you can trust the person(s) working on your home and handling your money, representing you in the transactions with the suppliers or bank. Be aware that you can ask for a criminal background check. Ask if the contractor has a problem with a full disclosure of all of their bids and estimates that way there are no hidden costs. 6. What about their education? How up to date are they on the latest technology and construction techniques? If you hire a contractor "whose done it that way for years" you can expect problems. Moisture and air leakage, mold, and structural failure are some of the most serious problems. Contractors that invest in training are the ones who are dedicated to doing the best work and you, the homeowner will benefit from that training. ( 7. Ask about their professional affiliations. The NAHB (National Association of Homebuilders) is the largest nationwide professional organization for homebuilders and remodelers. The NAHB ( strives to be the premier resource for industry information, education, research, and technical expertise. It also endeavors to improve business performance of its members and affiliates. The NAHB teams with industry innovators to make homes safer, more energy efficient, and in tune with the special needs of an ever-changing population. They also partner with non-profits to make the dream of home ownership a reality for all Americans, and give home buyers the information they need to choose just the right home for their families. 8. Ask to see their licenses. In Illinois general contractors are not required to be licensed however I believe that General Contractors should be required to be licensed. In many states a contractor must apply for a license, receive a background check, take a competency test, and post a bond before he receives his contractor’s license. The Contractor’s Board also determines the bid limit for contractors, which limits the contractor to jobs that he is financially able to complete. They also must not have any unresolved contracting complaints outstanding. 9. Ask about their designations or certificates. There are opportunities for contractors to obtain designations and certificates such as CGB (Certified Graduate Builder) or CGR (Certifed Graduate Remodeler). These designations offered by the NAHB (, result from extensive classroom, correspondence, and job site curriculum regarding all aspects of running a successful building or remodeling operation. The Graduate Master Builder (GMB) program provides even greater depth for the most experienced builders. 10. Ask if they carry and will provide you with proof or a certificate of insurance. It is extremely important that the contractor carry General Liability and Worker’s Compensation Insurance as it protects the homeowner if a person gets hurt while working on a project.  If you hire a contractor, or subcontractors without Worker’s Compensation Insurance they may be able to sue you and collect a large sum of money. You need to ask for a certificate of insurance indicating both types of insurance as a requirement of your contract. 11. If you get to contract, please, please, have your contract reviewed by an attorney before you sign. Make sure that the contractor's responsibilities, as well as yours are completely covered. Also, include in the contract the warranty policy, the change order policy, and deposit/payment schedule. If you own the lot that you are building on, it is customary for the contractor to ask for 5% down to bind the contract. If the contractor owns the lot, that jumps to 10%. There should also be a release clause for failure to perform and it is not uncommon to ask for a expected date of delivery with penalties if it exceeds an agreed date. Once you have this information, you should also research the contractor online. It is a great resource for information. If there are complaints or disputes they may show up in this media. You would do well to ask the current residents in the neighborhood in which the contractor builds. Drive through the neighborhood and knock on a few doors. Ask the residents what they know about the contractor you are considering and ask who built their home. A lot of really good information is found this way. Again, a reputable contractor is one that will not only have their information available, but will offer it eagerly. It is of course is not the "fun stuff" of building or remodeling, but getting it behind you allows the rest of your project to be much more enjoyable and offers you peace of mind. Oh, by the way, yes, the caller chose us to design and build their home next spring! Visit ( to see the progress of the homes/remodeling projects we are working on.

While Bob and I have worked with CL Design Build, the experience has been positive, professional, and one we would pursue again. Our dream home was creatively designed balancing practicality and cost. Cheryl’s attention to detail will make our home a focal point of the neighborhood. Thanks to all at CL Design Build!

~ Bob and Ann Elwood

We met with 5 different local builders when we started this custom build adventure. Cheryl Lee, hands down, left the best impression. She was knowledgeable, open to and interested in our ideas. They were always timely and attentive to any and all questions that we had and patient and informative when we were chewing over a decision. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience than working with the CL Design-Build team! Danielle Brown

~ Danielle Brown

We enjoyed working with CL Design Build to build our 100% custom dream home. Starting with a blank piece of paper, we were able to build our home from bottom to top using our own ideas and concepts. We are really enjoying our home today.

~ Doug and Cinda Coyne

That teamwork between Brad and Cheryl ensured that we received the best that is available. There is a trust and bond between CL Design-Build and their clients that gave us peace of mind. The numerous compliments that we receive on our beautiful home are tremendous!

~ Richard and Kristine Christie