Whether you are redoing your office condo, putting an addition on your house, or undertaking any other type of construction project, there are a few things to keep in mind as you select a contractor and get the construction process underway. Following these tips will not guarantee a problem-free project, but may reduce the chances of having problems and make that those occur easier to handle.

First select a legally qualified contractor. Ask to see the contractor’s Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation license. In Virginia, contractors must have a DPOR license which has two components: Class and Specialty. The Class A, B, or C- defines the financial size in dollars of the projects that the contractor may undertake. The Specialty, such as “Painting and Wall Covering” (“PWC”) defines and limits the construction function(s) the contractor can legally perform. So, if the contractor you are hiring to build a $150,000 addition to your home has a Class A license with only a PWC specialty, although he is licensed to receive that amount of money, he is NOT licensed to build an addition to your home.

If you have any doubts as to the contractor’s legal qualifications, call the Contractor’s Board at DPOR. They will be glad to answer your question.

Second, even if the contractor has the proper DPOR license for your job, you need to be satisfied that the contractor actually has the skills and the work ethic to do it. Ask to see some samples of the contractor’s work and speak with some previous customers to see how satisfied they were with the contractor’s performance.

In addition to selecting a contractor, it may be necessary to select an architect, depending on the complexity of the project. The architect will prepare the design and specifications for the project.

With respect to the construction contract itself, you need to make sure that it specifies exactly what the contractor will do and what you are responsible for, including whether you will have to provide any materials, such as fixtures, etc. The contract should also specify a total price, payment amounts and schedules (based on completion of specified tasks or completion of certain percentages of the project) and a final completion date. In addition, the contract should also contain the contractor’s DPOR license number.

Make sure the contract requires the contractor to pull the necessary permits. The contractor may try to persuade you to pull the permits yourself on the ground that it will save time and money. However, we advise against it. Having the contractor pull the permits indicates he has the necessary business license to operate in the jurisdiction and may provide an additional check on the contractor’s DPOR qualifications. Moreover, it helps avoid the argument, sometimes advanced by contractors, that since the homeowner pulled the permits, the homeowner served as the general contractor and bears responsibility for any construction defects or other problems with the project.

The contract also should contain a provision requiring that any changes to the contract (“change orders”) specify the cost of the change and be agreed to in advance in writing by both you and the contractor. This protects both you and the contractor and prevents misunderstandings. Many lawsuits between contractors and customers arise from failure to properly document change orders.

Finally, before signing the contract, it is good practice to have it reviewed by an attorney. This will help remove any ambiguities and prevent future misunderstandings that could cause problems during the construction, or could result in expensive litigation.

Once the project has been completed, particularly if it is a significant project, such as a substantial home addition, it is prudent to have it inspected by a licensed professional engineer. Do not rely on county or city inspectors — they don’t inspect everything, and have been known to approve a project that has significant structural or other defects. The cost of having an independent inspection performed will be well worthwhile, particularly if problems are discovered at a time that they still can be corrected by the contractor.

In building and construction contracts in Virginia, it is implied that the building will be constructed in a reasonably good and workmanlike manner. Thus, if necessary, legal action can be taken against the contractor under a breach of contract theory in the event that defects are discovered, and the matter cannot otherwise be resolved.