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Selecting a contractor

A few days ago, I overheard a statement I had heard many times before at the end of a building project: “I will never build another building.”

This is a common reaction to the frustrations of the building process, which seems designed to frustrate. First there is the process of agreeing a design, then getting a building permit, then finding a builder. And once the work itself begins, it seems every time you turn around there is a change that costs you money. Most new clients feel more like the victim of this process than the reason for its existence.

How, then, does one minimize these feelings of frustration?

One of the keys is the selection of the contractor. While it is natural at the beginning of the project to focus on the “plans”, it is the selection of the contractor that sets the stage for the type of process the client will remember long after the project is complete. It is the selection of the contractor that will either place the owner in command or in the seat of frustration.

For most of us, family and friends are the first source of recommendations. Unfortunately the size and importance of this financial commitment is too big to allow personal factors to drive the choice. We suggest you say thanks to your friends (and mean it), and then make a decision in your own long-term interest. They will eventually understand, I promise.

To begin the selection process, there is research to do. The order in which it is carried out is personal, but we recommend starting with a discussion with your architect, who will help you define the parameters of your project to be used in the selection process, and will give you a list of the builders he or she thinks are appropriate from his or her files. The architect would have a good idea of which firms are competent, the right size for your job, pay attention to the details of the work and handle the financial aspect of the contract well. This is a good way to begin compiling your own list.

But architects are limited in the number of builders they have the opportunity to work with over time, and you will find that they will have dealt with only a few of the dozens of contractors available. Your research should therefore be widened to other people and entities in the industry, like banks, whose mortgage departments inspect the works of contractors and deal with the financial aspect of a wider section of the market. Other design firms and developers might also contribute to your list.

This may seem like an awesome task that could take forever, but once it is started, you will find that the list of firms appropriate in size, character, competence and financial capability is relatively short. A final conversation with your architect and you will soon have your own shortlist from which to make the final choice.

Those on your shortlist should get the full treatment, beginning with your request for a list of work they have completed, with references you might discuss their performances with. Any firm not comfortable with this step should be struck from the list immediately. You should visit a selection of the projects listed (unless you are already familiar with them) and interview the contact persons to get their reactions to the following concerns:

• Was the contractor’s work satisfactory, both in quality and in style of operation?

• Did they get what they thought they contracted for?

• Was the relationship more like a partnership, or was it adversarial?

• Was there agreement on the financial resolution of the job?

• Did the builder complete the “punch list”, and deal with items he was responsible for after occupancy?

• Would they recommend the builder to you?

This part of the research does not have to wait for the completion of the design. It is work the owner can do while working on the completion of the design, or even earlier. But it should be done. Once these issues are discussed with former clients, your shortlist should be short indeed, and a final conversation with your architect is all you need to finalize your choice.


• Patrick Rahming & Associates is a full-service design firm providing architectural, planning and design services throughout The Bahamas and the northern Caribbean. Visit its website at, design blog at and like its Facebook page. The firm can be contacted by phone at 356-9080 or by email at or The firm’s mission is to help clients turn their design problems into completed projects through a process of guided decision-making, responsible environmental advice and expert project administration.


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