[2021] How to Select The Right Multi-Family General Contractor

If you are planning a multi-family condo, apartment construction, student dormitory or senior living construction project, you need a general contractor you can trust to deliver the project on time, on budget, and to project specifications.

A reliable general contractor is important for your project’s success because your contractor will be handling the project from start to finish, beginning with coordinating with the architect to finetune and finalize your design and ending with the final inspection that ensures your project is up-to-code and ready to go to market.

But knowing where to start when finding a general contractor for your multifamily project can be difficult. Some things you will need to consider as you prepare to find the right contractor for your project include:

– Where to find quality general contractors capable of handling a multi-family construction project

– What to ask for when you solicit bids from general contractors

– Your project budget

– What you should know about prospective contractors before making a decision

Finding qualified general contractors for your multi-family project

Good general contractors can be hard to find because many do little advertising; the quality of their work leads to enough word-of-mouth recommendations to keep their construction schedules full. If looking at business listings in your area hasn’t turned up prospective general contractors who look capable of taking on your project you also can find contractors through:

–        Word-of-mouth referrals. Word-of-mouth referrals can be especially helpful because people will generally only pass on the names of contractors who have done good work for them and who they trust for future projects. You can reach out to owners of similar projects to ask about contractors, ask people you know, or work through business networking groups, such as chambers of commerce, to ask for referrals.

–        Online search sites. Online search sites dedicated to highlighting contractors, like BuildCentral’s MultiFamilyData.com, can be especially useful because they can turn up multiple, qualified contractors for your project in one place.

–        Professional organizations. Construction trade organizations often have business listings for member contractors. As an added benefit, many of the contractors listed on such sites will have met testing or certification standards so you know they have the training necessary for the job.

Keep in mind when searching for a general contractor for a condo project or apartment project that the bidding and hiring process can take a significant amount of time. For large projects, hiring a general contractor can take as long as nine months.

Be sure that you adequately factor that time into your project timeline, and consider that you may need to begin your search and vetting process even while you are still ironing out the details of your multifamily construction project.

Knowing what to expect from your general contractor

If this is the first time you have undertaken a multifamily construction project, you might be wondering what the expect from your general contractor. General contractors are usually charged with overseeing the construction project from start to finish. Their responsibilities generally include:

–        Design. Your general contractor will work with your architect or designer to review and finalize plans to ensure they are ready for the construction team and that the project, as designed, will fit within your budget and project timeline.

–        Permitting. Construction project requiring legal permitting from local governments. Your general contractor will be responsible for discovering which permits are needed for your project and for obtaining those permits.

–        Purchasing. Your general contractor will oversee the purchasing of all of the major supplies for your construction project.

–        Subcontracting. Multi-family construction projects require a variety of subcontractors to handle the more specific elements of construction, such as plumbing and electrical work. Your general contractor will be responsible for hiring and supervising all of the subcontractors needed for your project.

–        Timeline and budget. Your general contractor is charged with keeping your project on time and within your budget.

–        Code compliance. To avoid penalties, ensure the safety of your building and ensure inspection approval, your building will have to comply with all local building codes. Your general contractor should be familiar with local building codes, and during construction, they will be responsible for guaranteeing that all codes are being met.

–        Final inspections. Before your multi-family construction project is ready to rent or sell, it has to be inspected and approved by local building authorities. Your general contractor will arrange for the inspection and oversee any changes that need to be made to get the project approved.

Preparing your request for proposal (RFP) for a general contractor

Once you have found general contractors you believe would be well-suited for your multifamily construction project, the next step is to prepare a request for proposal (RFP) to send to the contractors you would like to submit bids for the project.

Your RFP should provide contractors with an outline of the project, including the scope, budget, and timeline, and any details you would like to have them include in their bids. You also should consider differentiating between wants and needs when describing your project; bidding contractors should know which elements of your project are critical and which are aspects that you would like to include if possible within the budget, timetable, and contractor capabilities.

A thorough RFP is crucial for an effective bidding process because it enables the contractors to judge whether they would be a good fit for the project – saving you from wasting time with contractors who aren’t up for a project of your size or who won’t be available within your timetable – and helps to ensure that the bids you receive have similar details and are thus easier to compare.

A good RFP should include:

– An overview of the project, including as much detail as possible and differentiating between wants and needs

– Timeline

– General budget

– Any specific requirements you will have, such as material requirements or payment specifications

– A list of details you would like contractors to include in their bids

Choosing the right general contractor for your multi-family project

Once you have received multiple bids for your construction project, you will need to evaluate each bid to determine which contractor is the right fit.

Don’t assume that the lowest price equates to the best bid; you will need to evaluate the details of the bid documents and research the contractors’ backgrounds to determine which bid is right for your project. While some bids may be way off the mark and can be eliminated immediately, you should reach out to each contractor individually before making a decision.

First, you will want to discuss the bid with each contractor to make sure they are interpreting the RFP in the same way. You might find that prices differ because certain elements were included or excluded from the bid.

You also will want to gain a good understanding of each contractor’s experience and approach to the project. And an interview with contractors you are seriously considering will help you get a feel for whether the contractor is easy to work with and a good fit for your work style.

When talking to prospective contractors, there are several things to ask for, including references, experience, work associates, timeframe, and details surrounding bonding and insurance.

Contractor experience

Be sure that the contractor has the type of experience that you’re looking for. Whether you are undertaking a multifamily construction project, an apartment construction project, or a condo construction project, the contractor you hire should have successfully completed similar projects to yours.

Knowing that your contractor has a bevy of experience on a variety of projects lets you know that they know how to accommodate different project types and different problems to deal with the unique specifications of your projects.

Construction oversight team

It’s not enough to hire an experienced contractor; you want to know that the people who deal with the project directly – such as the project manager and superintendent – have direct experience working on multi-family projects, as well. Those employees will be working directly on your project and will deal with much of the day-to-day decision-making and construction.

Subcontractors

One of a general contractor’s primary roles is hiring subcontractors to handle the individual tasks of the projects. You might have an experienced general contractor, but if they hire inexperienced or unreliable subcontractors, that can put your project in jeopardy.

When interviewing your general contractor, ask about the subcontractors they use: How much experience do their typical subcontractors have? How long have they been working with the subcontractor? How do they ensure that the subcontractors complete their work promptly and that the work is of high quality?

Timetable

While your RFP and the contractors’ bids both should have details on the project timetable, you will want to review the timetable during your interviews with prospective contractors.

General contractors should discuss whether they believe your construction timetable is reasonable based on the scope of the project. You also will want to ask prospective contractors about their current construction schedules to be sure that they have the availability to handle your project within your planned timeframe.

Work guarantees

With a timetable in place, how does your prospective contractor guarantee their work? Be sure their bid includes what they will deliver and by when.

Know how they guarantee the quality of their work and how they would respond if you have any concerns about the work as it is delivered.

Communication

Discuss communication with your contractor to discover how they will keep you updated on the progress of your project and discuss with you any problems that might arise.

You will want to find a contractor whose communication style fits well with yours based on the frequency you prefer to be contacted and the communication channels you prefer to use.

Insurance

Not all states require general contractors to be licensed, bonded, and insured. Before hiring a contractor, you will want to ask to verify their licensing and proof of insurance. Hiring a general contractor without bonding and insurance can leave your project open to risk from poor workmanship, dangerous working conditions, and liabilities for accidents.

References

Contacting references is a crucial part of the bidding process. Don’t just assume that submitted references are a sign that the contractor is capable of handling your multi-family construction project. Be sure that you ask the contractors you are interested in hiring for references from previous clients whose projects were similar to you.

When you call references, don’t just ask about how satisfied they were with the final process; ask about the process. You will want to know whether the contractor was easy to work with, whether they had good communication through the project, that the project was delivered on time and within budget and that there were no major complications.

Summary

Hiring a general contractor for your multi-family construction project is a big task, but taking your time in finding the right contractor is crucial for ensuring that your project goes smoothly.

Because your general contractor will oversee the process from start to finish, be sure that you do your research – from finding potential contractors to reviewing bids and checking references – to find a contractor that has the experience needed to make your project a success.

Hiring a general contractor for your multi-family construction project FAQs:

 

What is a general contractor responsible for?

Your general contractor is responsible for all aspects of your multi-family construction project, including working with the architect to finalize a design, purchasing materials, hiring subcontractors, obtaining permits and building approval, and keeping the project on time and on budget.

How do I choose the right general contractor for my multifamily construction project?

There is a process involved in selecting a general contractor for your construction project. It involves:

1.      Finding general contractors who are experienced in projects like yours. That can be done through word-of-mouth referrals, search websites dedicated to multifamily contractors like BuildCentral’s MultiFamilyData.com, or trade groups that represent general contractors.

2.   Creating a Request for Proposal (RFP) to send to qualified contractors. Your RFP will express to contractors that you are interested in receiving a bid from them for your project. It should outline your project in as much detail as possible, including the budget, timeline, and any special parameters you have, and it should communicate to the contractors all of the elements you would like them to include in their bids.

3.   Reviewing bids and interviewing contractors. You will want to review multiple bids for your project to find the contractor that’s right for your project. Price shouldn’t be the only factor in selecting a bid; you will need to interview contractors to ensure they interpreted your RFP properly and that the bid aligns with your specifications, learn more about their experience with similar projects and discover whether they are a good fit for you and your project.

4.   Contacting references. Prospective general contractors should provide you with a list of references from previous projects that are similar to yours. Be sure to contact those references to determine whether they are satisfied with the contractor’s finished work and to ask about how the construction process went in general.

How do I choose a bid for a contractor?

Construction bids are about more than budget. That means you can’t assume that the lowest bid you receive is the best bid for your multifamily construction project. Inevitably, the contractors who submit bids will include different elements, and they may have interpreted the details of your RFP differently.

That means you will need to review all of the bids you receive carefully to determine that all of the important elements of your project were included. You may need to consider how the bids are budgeted for the “needs” versus the “wants” of your project.

In general, it is best to narrow down the bids you receive to the few you think look best and then interview those contractors to ensure that the bid aligns with your project specifications and to get a feel for whether the contractor’s experience and work style make them a good fit for your project.

What should a contractor bid look like?

Bids from general contractors should include a comprehensive breakdown of all of the elements of your multi-family construction project. That begins with a description of what elements of the project the general contractor will be responsible for. There also should be a complete breakdown of the costs, including the contractor’s fees, permitting costs, costs for materials, and costs for subcontractors. The bid should include project timeline estimates, as well as the contractor’s deliverables and quality assurances.