The purpose of this brief is to assist the owners of historic properties in selecting a contractor after a natural disaster has damaged their property. The North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office (HPO) is frequently called upon to assist property owners locate contractors who are experienced in working with historic properties. In the aftermath of a natural disaster, the requests for referrals greatly increase while the pool of competent contractors decreases as the most talented workmen quickly commit to projects. This leaves the bulk of historic property owners in a position where they often must settle for a contractor who has little experience with historic resources.

Jeff Adolphsen, Restoration Specialist

1. Finding Reliable Contractors
To ensure quality restoration work on historic properties, consider various sources for contractor recommendations. The Restoration Branch of the HPO can provide referrals, and other options include the Association for General Contractors, local homebuilders associations, trade organizations, the local historic preservation commission, and word-of-mouth recommendations.

2. Evaluating Contractor Proposals
Mitigate risks by reaching out to at least three contractors for bids. Each contractor should submit a written proposal detailing the necessary repair work, including material and labor costs, quantities, and preparatory work. Compare proposals to ensure consistency in the scope of work. Address discrepancies by seeking clarification from the contractor, manufacturer, or HPO.

3. Ensuring Insurance Coverage
Prioritize contractors with disability and worker's compensation insurance. Without proper coverage, you could be liable for accidents on your property. Additionally, consider having the contractor obtain performance and labor/materials payment bonds for added protection. While not always necessary for small projects, these bonds guarantee project completion and safeguard against potential liens or legal issues.

4. Checking References and Reputation
Ask each contractor for a list of references from similar past projects. Contact these references to inquire about their experiences and whether they would rehire the contractor. Research a contractor's reputation by contacting regulatory agencies like the North Carolina State Licensing Board and the Attorney General's Office, as well as local organizations like the Better Business Bureau and Homebuilders Association.

5. Reviewing the Contract
Once a contractor is selected, attach their proposal to the contract and have all parties sign. Essential contract components include names, addresses, and phone numbers of both parties, signing date, contract amount, project duration, start date, and payment schedule. Additional considerations involve payment withholding, contract extensions, liquidated damages, guarantees, and the need for licenses or bonds. Legal review of the contract is advisable.

6. Payment and Precautions
Payments should be made by check to the company, avoiding cash transactions. Be cautious of excessive prepayments, which could indicate financial instability. While some prepayment is reasonable for administration fees and materials, common prepayment ranges from five to fifteen percent. Larger prepayments should come with a clear written explanation from the contractor.