In the last post, I mentioned our intention to help our fellow deck builders through consulting and an instructional website. But that was obviously meant for contractors.
What about for you homeowners? While I believe the quality of workmanship will continue to improve, it's still critical to be vigilant in your selection of the right builder. The following are some basic steps you should consider.
After checking your budget, I think the first step is doing some research on the internet as it's a great tool to gather information. I personally think Home Reports (www.homereports.com) is a great service as they're an independent resource that evaluates the quality of area building contractors. Yes, we're ranking highly in that and I might be biased, but I still think it's a great service. For a Google of Yahoo search, you might want to type in "atlanta decks" or something like that. You'll get back many deck builder listings, and from there you can visit their sites and accomplishments.
I'd probably narrow down to three or so from these, then set up appointments to discuss what you'd like. I've found over the years that most homeowners know they want a deck, but don't have a specific vision. Some deck builders are better than others in helping you with a plan/vision.
When setting the appointments, ask about their certification and experience. I hate to exclude newer contractors here, but it's best to go with someone with practical experience. When meeting with them, ask about references, then check them. And when calling references, ask them to step through their experience rather than just taking their "they were great" testimonial. When digging a little further, I tend to pick up more insight. One of the intangibles too when weeding down is how well you interact with the builder. In a lot of cases, you'll be talking to them quite a bit over the period, so you really need to feel comfortable with them.
I think those are some basics and if you follow, you'll generally avoid problems. Have any other suggestions that I might have missed?