Tim Barber House & Home | Blog | Choosing A Contractor: Ask a Pro | Nearly everyone knows that part of the process of choosing a contractor to build your new home requires that you check the contractors’...

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Choosing A Contractor: Ask a Pro

Nearly everyone knows that part of the process of choosing a contractor to build your new home requires that you check the contractors’ references.  But, typically, a builder will only give you his or her client references. I sat down with friend, colleague, builder and father of six, Mark Snashall of Chelsea Construction and asked him this question, “If one of your kids lived far from you and was interviewing a contractor to build or renovate their home, what would you tell them to ask?” 

Choosing a Contractor: Mark Snashall Interview

Client References

Client references are the first step – no surprise there.  Mark told me you’ll need to speak to 5 or 6 clients with whom the contractor has worked on similar projects.  Be sure you get a mix of clients, old, new, and current. He says you want a client from five or so years ago because you’ll want to hear how well the job is holding up a few years after completion. Then ask to speak with one or two whose project was completed recently. Finally, talk with clients whose projects are currently under construction. Be sure to ask the clients how well the contractor stuck to the budget, adhered to timing, dealt with challenges on the job, resolved mistakes and handled communication and billing.

Choosing a Contractor: Mark Snashall Interview

Subcontractor References

In addition to speaking with clients, you are going to want ask the contractor for the contact information of a few of the subcontractors from previous jobs. Speaking to the subs will give you a handle on how the contractor conducts business behind the scenes.  Ask the subs how promptly the contractor pays them, how well the contractor manages timing on the job, and how he or she treats them.  The answers to these questions will tell you if the contractor you are considering is professional and knows how to get the best work out of his or her team.

Choosing A Contractor: Mark Snashall Interview

Collaborator References

I learned that knowing how well a contractor “plays in the sandbox” is essential to learn before you hire them. Mark strongly suggests you ask prospective builders for the names of a few architects, interior designers, landscape architects and engineers the contractor has worked with recently to learn how well he or she collaborates.  How the contractor gets along with these players will give insight into how he or she might interact with you. Ask these professionals how well the contractor communicates. 

One thing Mark really stressed was managing expectations.  He assured me that mistakes will happen on a job; no matter how terrific your builder might be.  It's good to know how he or she handles the mistakes before you sign a contract.  Does contractor take ownership of mistakes caused by his or her team?  How does he or she address those mistakes?  Collaborators are behind the scenes so speaking with them will give you different perspectives from those you’ll get from just speaking with clients.

Choosing A Contractor: Mark Snashall Interview

Vendor References

The last little tidbit Mark taught me was to ask for three vendors the contractor purchases from regularly. Specifically, ask to speak with his or her favorite lumber yard, door and window supplier and concrete vendor. These are probably the people the contractor has the most interaction with throughout every project. You want to know how quickly the contractor pays the vendors and whether he or she conducts business professionally.  Does he or she place orders in plenty of time or is every job a rush job? If every job is a scramble to get supplies, then perhaps the contractor doesn’t plan ahead and that doesn’t bode well for you. 

If a contractor balks at any of these requests, be wary.  You want transparency throughout the home building process. This is a good test of how honest and forthcoming a contractor will be should you chose him or her for your project.

I also learned that the interview process is not only about the contractor. The process says a lot about you as well.  Requesting the references of more than just clients, sends a message to a prospective contractor that you are thorough and savvy.  A good contractor will respect your professionalism and willingly give you the information your desire.  


Mark Snashall is President of Chelsea Construction, a custom home builder and general contracting company in La Canada-Flintridge, California.  Mark and his experienced team build some of the finest custom residences in Los Angeles, bringing an exacting attention to detail, an addictive enthusiasm and a collaborative spirit to every project. Mark's craftmanship is featured in these photos.