When you plan to design and build you outdoor living space, choosing a builder is and can be overwhelming. Here are some tips to select the right contractor for your backyard oasis:

First is to select your potential candidates for the project by either referral or Internet search. Narrow the selection of the potential builders to three companies. Taking too many bids gets confusing in the long run, it is hard to remember which company told you what.

Set up a personal meeting with each company. Make sure it is a good fit, even on a personal level; it does help if you have a good report with the company you are going to hire. The initial meeting should be information gathering for both parties. If the company attempts to make you sign an agreement on the first visit, they probably do not have your best interest. “The price is only good today” line should be a red flag.

Try to explain your vision for the improvements as clearly as possible; show picture references, sketches or anything you can think of to give your builder a clear understanding of what your vision is. Share your budget range, colors, location of the project, items you like to include and as much information you can provide. The more the builder knows about what you like to build, the less revisions you need to make, which can reduce delays to complete the design plan and estimate.

The design and estimate should be very detailed and clear of any gray areas. The company should provide you with a design showing the details of the project. The estimate should also be very detailed, so you know exactly what are you purchasing. Size should clearly be noted on the estimate of the items you are purchasing. For example, if you are building an outdoor patio cover with some fans and lights, the estimate should clearly state what size your new patio cover is, what materials are used, how many fans, lights and electric outlets they will install for the project. The estimate should also establish who is responsible for all the building permits associated with the development. In most cases, a municipality building permit is needed along with an HOA permit for the project.

Compare your designs estimates you have collected. Most items are charged by square footage or linear footage depending on the item. If some of your estimate is very low in cost, it might differ as far as size and or items included go. Never take a verbal assurance from the builder stating what will be included; be sure every item is written into the paperwork you will sign. A company who gives you a verbal explanation what the project will look like along with just a grand total number, instead of a detailed estimate, should be a red flag as well. Little known fact in Texas: it is not legal to tax labor. If you get an estimate that has a tax on the grand total, they are not legally entitled to do that. Often, they use this to have a wiggle room for a discount, but this is an illegal practice.

The contractor should break down the payments and collect the draws as they perform the work. Depending on the size of the project, two to five payments are expectable. A large sum for down payment also should be a red flag. A small amount of retainer before the project is completed is always a good idea.

Hire a local contractor for this project. They should provide you with insurance information and references. A good contractor should have a healthy amount of references, not just a few, based on how many years they have been in business. For example, if they have been in business more than 5 years, and only provide 3 references, something does not add up. Hiring a large volume company could be a risk as they can be too busy to start and complete the project in a timely manner. Ask to see pictures of their previous works, call or visit their past clients, to make sure the quality of work is up to your standards.

Here are some picture examples of an outdoor kitchen done by an under qualified contractor vs. a professional.

 

On the left picture, the grill has no direct access door. If you need the gas valve shut off, there is no access to the valves.

Poorly built outdoor kitchen

Well Built Outdoor Kitchen

By law, even after the agreement has been signed, you have a right to cancel without penalty, if the need to do so arises but prior to the commencement of the work. This should be written into your contract agreement also.