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Should you hire a builder or a contractor?

The most important part of any construction project at your church or ministry happens long before the groundbreaking ceremony. You will want to work with a company that has the proven ability to complete your project on time and within budget. Our friends at Brotherhood Mutual offer the following advice and resources to get you started.

You have two options for any construction project: Working with a builder or hiring your own contractor.

Working with a builder

If the project is large, such as a new sanctuary or educational wing, consider working with a builder or architectural firm experienced in church construction. The firm will design your project and, if needed, assign a construction manager who will ensure timely project completion. He will act as liaison between you and the workers and will oversee important functions such as:

  • Hiring a general contractor and subcontractors
  • Buying materials
  • Ensuring compliance with local zoning ordinances
  • Obtaining proper permits
  • Miscellaneous project details

Working with a contractor

For smaller projects, such as remodeling an existing space, a church may choose to hire a general contractor directly. The general contractor's responsibilities are similar to those of a construction manager, but the contractor will report directly to the church. This will require the church to appoint a staff member to be responsible for the building process.

No matter which option you choose, there are five steps your church can take to ensure you are hiring a quality company.

  1. Check references

    The best way to know how a company performs its work is to check references.

    • Check their standing: Investigate the company's reputation by checking with the Better Business Bureau and other business rating agencies to see if the contractor has received complaints.
    • Verify licenses: Your local building contractors' association, along with your city and state building regulators, can tell you what licenses your contractor should hold.
    • Look for experience: The Associated General Contractors of America recommends choosing a contractor that has at least five years’ experience in the type of building you are doing.
    • Seek examples: Find out how many jobs like yours the contractor has completed.
    • Get references: Call at least three previous clients who've had similar work done and ask specific questions, such as: Was the project completed on schedule? Was it completed within budget? Were there problems and how were they handled? Were you pleased with the overall results?

  2. Bid it out

    No church wants to spend more than necessary, nor do they want to hire a company that does shoddy work. That's why the bidding process is important.

    • Narrow down your list of contractors to the top three.
    • Create a list of specifications.
    • Ask each contractor to bid on the same exact specifications.
    • Compare bids, keeping in mind that the lowest bid isn’t always the best. It might entail lower-quality materials or less extensive work.
    • Consider bonding the project. A bond ensures that a contractor is financially prepared to assume responsibility if he's unable to complete the job. Never proceed with a contractor if he is unable or unwilling to back up the work financially.

  3. Confirm insurance

    If your contractor doesn't carry proper insurance, you could be liable for injuries or property damage caused by the contractor's negligence. Confirm that the contractor you've selected carries adequate insurance for:

    • Workers' compensation
    • Vehicle
    • Liability

    Require the general contractor and each subcontractor to furnish a certificate of insurance verifying that all workers are properly insured. In addition, either you or the contractor should carry builders' risk insurance covering damage to the structure or materials during construction.

  4. Get it in writing

    Any agreement you make with your contractor should be in writing. Requiring a written contract will ensure that your church's project will be completed with the desired results, within the time frame specified and within the price range your church expects to pay.

    The contract package should include:

    • Description of the work to be performed
    • Work schedule
    • Payment schedule
    • Warranty information
    • Statement of permits
    • Statement of insurance and bonds
    • Arbitration or mediation clause
    • Copies of the architectural plans or drawings, including the dimensions
    • Complete list of building specifications clearly identifying the products and materials to be used.

  5. Review before signing

    The contract language may ask you to indemnify, defend and hold a contractor harmless for injuries or damages that might happen during the course of construction, even if they were caused by the contractor's negligence. Don't hesitate to question any terms in the contract; failing to do so could have costly consequences. Have an attorney review the document before you sign it and explain anything you don't understand. The goal is for you to understand exactly what you're signing.

Brotherhood Mutual also offers this checklist to help you when hiring a contractor.

Remodeling and building can be both an exciting and stressful time for your church. But working with the right company can ease some of the stress and provide you with the quality work that will allow your congregation to worship and serve for years to come