Picking the Right Florida Keys Contractor

Florida Keys Contractor

How to Find the Right Florida Keys Contractor

A low price can be very inviting to a consumer–with that said, the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten. In this article, I will lay out the four most important topics concerning the risks involved in hiring a contractor, how to mitigate your exposure, and help you select the right Florida Keys contractor for your project.

For most clients, “cost” is the most important factor driving the decision-making process in terms of selecting a contractor. While the monetary aspect is important, so is doing your homework on the front end of the bidding and proposal phase of your project – the lowest bidder may not always be the best value.

Reviewing your construction documents

Prior to sending out your project documents for contractors to price, it’s important that you discuss and review the plans and specifications for the project with your own design professional.

Don’t rush it!

Getting your plans to reflect an accurate scope of work goes a very long way–it will allow you to make sound decisions based on solid information.

Making sure that the design team has drawn and specified the scope of work within your budget, and ensuring that he or she has covered everything on your wish list accurately will save you time and money in the long run, and will make the overall process more efficient.  By spending the appropriate time on the front end reviewing the project plans and specifications, you are providing a contractor with a clear understanding of the scope and project parameters, by giving him all the information he will need to properly price the work. 

The Pre-Bid Process – Selecting Prospective Bidders

Selecting the right Florida Keys contractor can make or break your project.  The first step in finding the right contractor in the pre-bidding process is finding a good pool of qualified candidates to pick from. Vetting out the right candidates to invite to bid is a very important part of any project’s success. Large companies often go through a vigorous vetting process when establishing a bid list for their projects. Having a solid pool of contractors to pick from, ensures that you are getting accurate pricing from seasoned professionals, enabling you to get solid information and make sound decisions. When making a selection, there are several key factors that should be considered.  The basic factors are noted in bullet points below and should be the first phase of the vetting process:

  • Make sure that the companies you are considering are properly licensed – this can be verified on the Florida DBPR website: https://www.myfloridalicense.com/wl11.asp?mode=0&SID=  Unfortunately, the construction industry, like many other industries–is replete with unethical and unscrupulous contractors. While they´re not always that easy to catch on the surface, there are some red flags for you to look for.  A properly qualified business license should be in the same company name as it appears on a prospective business’ letterhead.  Florida law requires that all construction businesses go through a very thorough qualification process. If the license provided to you by a prospective bidder is in a different name than that of the company that the bidder claims to represent, this should be a red flag!  If a Florida Keys contractor cannot provide proper proof of licensure, or gives you some story that they have someone who will pull permits for them, you should disqualify that bidder immediately from consideration as he/she is not legally licensed under the laws of the State of Florida. See Florida Statute 489 https://www.flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2018/0489.13.
  • Make sure that your prospective bidders are properly insured. The State of Florida requires contractors to carry statutory minimums which include, but are not limited to, General Liability, Workers’ Compensation, and Commercial Auto Liability Coverage. Workers’ Compensation Exemptions, although legal in nature, should not be accepted due to the potential risks they pose to a property owner.
  • Interview prospective bidders on their experience and track record before allowing/inviting them to bid on your project. A strong bidding pool will render more positive results and minimize your risk of making a poor decision that could cost you in the long run.
  • Only consider inviting bidders who meet the basic criteria listed

Requesting Pricing from Contractors – The Bid Phase

Structure is important!  When sending out your project documents to prospective bidders, it´s important to set parameters so that you have an orderly, well-organized bidding process. I would suggest inviting 3 to 4 properly vetted and qualified candidates to bid on your project.

At this point in the project, your design professional knows the scope of the project better than anyone else. He or she has been intimately involved with all of the technical aspects of the project from the beginning.

Ask your design professional to prepare a thorough Request for Proposal (RFP) document for you to provide to your prospective bidders.

The RFP does not need to be overly broad, but it should include some basic information as listed below. This will help keep the bidding process fair and balanced. At a minimum, the following should be included within the RFP.

  • Provide detailed “Instructions to Bidders”. This will ensure that bidders do not depart from the plans and specifications and will keep the playing field fair. This will also ensure that the bidders are all bidding on the same scope of work.
  • Specify a due date for bids and do not allow bidders to submit bids outside of the due date. Remember that structure is a key component to your project’s
  • Require a Schedule of Values – Bid Breakdown Form (Emphasis added). It´s best for a standard bid form to be provide to all bidders within the RFP.
  • Require a construction schedule with all bids.
  • Require that bidders list all “Exclusions and Bid Qualifications” to their proposal in detail.
  • Require that bidders provide a list of the potential subcontractors they intend to use.
  • Require that bidders provide a full-time foreman or superintendent in their bid proposals (a project without proper supervision is a recipe for disaster).
  • Require bidders to submit a resume on potential project supervisors they intend to use should they be awarded the project.

A thorough RFP and bid process will provide you with a better understanding of a contractor’s ability to perform. Something as simple as analyzing his potential subcontractor pool can speak volumes about the way a particular contractor operates. 

The Award Phase – Selecting a Florida Keys Contractor

The most important phase of your project is now here – selecting the right firm to execute the project. This is the second part of the vetting phase.

As I mentioned above, there are several important factors for you to consider prior to selecting your Florida Keys contractor. Your decision should not solely be based on “who” was the lowest bidder, but on “how you identify” the lowest qualified bidder.

Under this section you will begin to see the importance of why proper planning and implementing structure from the beginning phases is so critical to a project’s success.   By providing bidders with an RFP, along with accurate project drawings, you will be setting forth strict parameters that must be followed when preparing their bid/proposals for the project.  This will ensure that everyone has priced the same materials and scope of work, along with any general conditions noted within the project RFP. Now that you have bids on hand to review, here are some key factors to consider:

  • Your prospective bidders should have followed the bidder’s instructions and submitted a bid form that was prepared by your design professional. Take your time reviewing it, and pay close attention to any exclusions and/or bid qualifications that the bidders may have included with the bid form – exclusions and qualifications to a bid proposal may have significant impacts on the overall price.
  • Prepare a proper bid proposal analysis on a spreadsheet and ask your design professional to assist you in verifying that all work has been accounted for and that there are no surprises. Again, pay close attention to any exclusions and qualifications that each bidder may have included within his/her respective proposal.
  • Prepare questions regarding bid proposals for all bidders and question them on any significant pricing disparities that you may have found during the bid analysis. For example, if 3 of 4 bidders are within 5% of each other in pricing when it comes to floor tile, but a fourth bidder is 20% lower than the other 3 bidders, something is wrong and should be looked into more carefully. If bidders have followed the RFP, pricing disparities should not exceed 5-10% on any given section of the bid proposal. Any pricing disparities higher than 10% should be a red flag, and you should delve further into that for clarification from prospective bidders.
  • Set up phone or in-person interviews with all bidders. I prefer in-person interviews, but that is solely up to you. You should not discount the higher bidders just yet. As I mentioned before – the low bidder may not necessarily be the best value. During your interview, review every section of the bid proposal and make sure everything has been covered. Once the scope issues have been addressed, you should discuss scheduling and the means and methods by which the contractor intends to perform the work.
  • Interview the contractor’s superintendent or foremen. After all, you will have to work with him or her on a daily basis for the duration of the project. You will want to know if you can work with this person.
  • Verify references provided – Ask questions regarding their ability to perform under pressure, solving problems, All projects have issues. I always like to ask references to share some of the challenges they had on their projects and how the contractor dealt with them.
  • Lastly – Keep your expectations realistic in terms of the time you expect the project to be completed in, and the amount of money you intend to spend. If the answers you are getting from a particular candidate sound too good to be true, we all know how that will turn out.

After you have done all of the above, I recommend taking an overall look at everything one last time and consider all of the information you have gathered thus far prior to making your final decision.

Good luck!

About the Author

Guillermo Fernandez is a 28-year veteran of the construction industry.  A uniquely qualified construction professional, Mr. Fernandez serves as the President of United RHG Inc., a national General Contractor and Construction Management Firm headquartered in Miami, Florida, that is licensed and authorized to conduct business in 26 states. Throughout his 28-year career Mr. Fernandez has completed hundreds of construction projects throughout the United States and the Caribbean for some of the industries’ most recognized real estate firms.