Skip to main content

REAL HOMES, REAL SOLUTIONS How to select a reputable General Contractor


Picking the right builder an essential step.

Did you know that the US spends more than $445 billion annually for construction projects?  And the US Census Bureau data states that in 2019 Californians spent over $1 billion on construction and home remodeling.  Many owners have sensibly discovered that investing in their current residence by building an addition or upgrading their kitchens and/or baths makes more financial sense that purchasing a new home.

Because remodeling is expensive, consumers should make every effort to ensure their construction dollar is spent wisely and with little risk.


Choosing a builder can be quite an ordeal for anyone.  Most of us have heard at least one horror story about a construction project that went terribly wrong.  Fortunately, there are a number of excellent contractors in the Sacramento area.  The best way to start your list of potential contractors is by word of mouth and referrals from trusted sources, friends, relatives or colleagues. 

If you've used an Architect, he or she may help you prepare a contractor list. solicit bids and select a qualified builder.  If you're on your own, prepare yourself with some basic information and be diligent in your selection effort and avoid creating your own nightmare.

It's true, there are many unscrupulous contractors practicing fraud daily.  Consumers are regularly taken advantage of by their trusting nature and lack of design experience, construction knowledge and law.  To weed out those who are unethical, you must know what to ask and what to expect from the initial contractor interview through construction completion.  


First, don't interview or engage the services of a contractor until you have substantially completed construction documents and/or project specifications.  fully understand your documents and specifications and be ready to provide them to at least three contractors for bidding.  Your construction plans and specifications will become legal documents and part of the construction contract.  


Here's how to verify a contractor's good reputation and financial security before you sign anything, hand over any money or begin any work:

  • Verify the contractor license.  Ask to see the contractor's pocket card and an additional form of identifications,m see that it matches.  Verify that the same license number appears on all printed materials, including vehicles.  
  • Verify liability insurance and workers compensation.  Ask for a copy of the the contractor's certificate of insurance.  The insurance providers name and number will be on the certificate.  Call to verify coverage.  When you select a contractor, make sure the coverage extends one year beyond your constrion completion date to ensure your one-year warranty period.  If the contractor has employees, he/she is required by law to carry workers compensation.
  • Verify the contractor's license bond and review additional bonding options.  Contractors are legally required to maintain a license bond.  Other bonds are available and construction contract must contain a "Notice to Owner" stating so.  Some other bond options are:

Performance Bond: Guarantees project completion to plans.

Payment Bonds:  Assures owner no liens for labor or materials will be filed against the property.

Contract Bonds:  Guarantees job completion and payment of all labor and materials.

A professional contractor will generously provide information about their business, prior and current clients and some banking information if required.  Before meeting them to review your project, let them know you want them to arrive prepared to furnish all business information and references.  If they don't have the information, or are unwilling to provide it, say good-bye, scratch them off your list and interview the next contractor.


Solicit a minimum of three bids for your project and requiest line item pricing for your comparison needs.  Don't automatically select the lowest price.  Make sure the bids are based on the same set of specifications and discuss any radical price variations.  Sometimes a really low bid indicates a mistake or misunderstanding of the work scope.

Be detailed in your contract and assume nothing.  Don't sign a contract that is blank or partially complete and clearly specify the financial terms and when payments are to be made.  Be sure to address change orders and how payment for them will be handled.  Often times full payment for the change order work is required prior to starting that work.  Identify the construction documents and specifications by name and date and include work schedules and an anticipated completion date.


If you need time to review the contract, take it.  Above all, don't give any down payment that is more than 10% of the job or $1000, whichever is less.

The California State Licensing Board has a number of excellent publications available to guide you through builder selection, contract preparation, bonds and other important topics relevant to your project type.  

Check the contractor's license through the Contractors State Licensing Board to verify the license is valid for the class of work to be performed and in good standing.  To verify the license, you can call (800)321-CSLB or go to their website at .

I urge everyone to take the mystery out of construction and educate him or herself prior to undertaking the expensive building process.  It will make the experience less painful for both you and your pocketbook.

Have more questions?  Just drop us a note below, we're happy to help!

REAL HOMES, REAL SOLUTIONS A Design & Construction Blog Smart Information You Can Use Today


Q. Do You Need and Architect?   

A. Yes!  If your project falls into one of these scenarios:

If you're planning an addition, renovation an existing home with roof changes or engineered  beams, framing, foundations, or building from the ground up, you will need an Architect. 

A qualified design service may be sufficient for smaller jobs like kitchen and bath remodels that stay within the general foot print.  However, when your project involves new load bearing walls, seismic reinforcements, sheer walls, site set back conditions, additions, etc., include an Architect on your team of professionals.

Many home owners make the mistake when they seek contractors for design service, design options and/or project budgeting.  Unless the General Contractor is a "Design/Build"  contractor, who works with a state licensed Architect, avoid starting your planning and design process with a basic builder. 

The misconception is that contractors understand the design process and can help you arrive at your goal inexpensively by eliminating the "pricey" Architect.  Contractors build, they do not design.  Builders perform best when they have accurate instructions, i.e., construction documents. 

If you ask a contractor to give you a proposal for a bath, kitchen or extensive remodel without a plan, and then want to compare proposals with others to make your contractor selection,  you'll have incomparable project estimates, create unnecessary work for yourself and possibly select the wrong company for the work.  For example, you may want better quality windows, but because there's no exact window specification, you may end up with a low end product that doesn't meet your expectations.

Working with an Architect doesn't mean spending more money.  Architects are highly trained, technical and artistic.  It's their job to take your wants and needs and turn them into a tangible product.  They understand space and its function and can produce a variety of options for you to review on paper first.

It's much easier, and less expensive, to change your mind, or discover and solve a problem in the design phase than during construction.  Architects walk you through your planned environment, advise you if your taste exceeds your budget and will suggest alternatives to save money and/or meet your schedule.

Architects can provide a wonderful service to you - especially if you work full time or have zero construction knowledge.  Here are some key services provided:

  • Architects will produce detailed construction documents, specify materials such as doors, finishes, fixtures, lighting, etc.
  • They will put the construction documents out to bid, obtain insurance and workers compensation certificates and obtain proposals from qualified contractors.
  • They will review the proposals with you, negotiate prices and fees and determine the best builder for your project.
  • They can act as the Project Manager and answer contractor's questions, keep a close eye on your schedule and budget, see that the chosen materials are used and that the changes are fairly priced.
  • They will listen to all parties, act as your mediator and problem solver and secure the best possible solution if, or when, conflicts arise.

Fees and services vary widely depending on the individual and the work scope you request.  Basic fee structures include:

  • a flat fee
  • a percentage fee based on the cost of construction
  • an hourly fee

Your contract with the Architect can be tailored to your exact requirements and project needs.  

Choosing the right Architect is as important as hiring one.  Interview Architects, review their portfolio and visit a few projects.   Good Architects have excellent relationships with clients, contractors, material vendors and City Officials alike.

To achieve the results you want, you must be understood.  There are plenty of excellent Architects in the area ready to listen, so choose carefully and know that you will be in good company. With a level of trust, communication and comfort, you and your Architect will succeed.

Contact Us

We care about your privacy. Please don’t submit sensitive information such as social security numbers, credit card or bank information.
I agree that West Designs - Full Service K+B Designer/Builder can email and call me in response to my inquiry, as well as with tips and offers for similar services.