The idea behind a home improvement is to make your home a better place to live in. Nearly just as important is the improvement made to your home’s value. Such a large financial asset deserves special consideration when deciding on a contractor to perform the work on your home. Below are some things to keep in mind as you begin your search for a fair, competent contractor.
- Begin your search by asking friends who they hired to work on their home. If they were happy enough to recommend their contractor, that is a good place to start. Additionally, if you’ve noticed a neighbor’s house being worked on and would like to know about their contractor, ask them as well.
- Don’t settle for the first contractor who gets back to you. Get at least three estimates. Also, if the contractors are on the level, they should be happy to provide contact information for a few of their former customers. Contact the customers and asked him about the job that was done. Consider the work they had done in comparison to your project. Make sure your job isn’t more than the contractor can handle.
- Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints about the contractor. The website is www.bbb.org and the service is free.
- Make sure your contractor is licensed and insured. Consider it a good sign if your potential contractor volunteers the information up front.
- Don’t base your selection on price alone. The old adage “you get what you pay for” holds true in most all things. If a particular bid seems like a lowball, it may be a sign of the contractor’s inexperience, desperation, or willingness to cut corners in order to shoehorn the job into your budget.
- Insist on a written estimate and ensure that it contains anything the contractor has agreed to during the process. Read it carefully, as it should contain a list of all materials to be used and labor. Ask upfront if the estimate is free, as it should be. It may be a “red flag” if the contractor wants to charge for estimates.
- Payment should be clearly agreed upon and never expected in-full at the beginning of the job. Avoid paying for anything in cash. A commonly accepted payment schedule consists of 1/3 down at the beginning, 1/3 during the project, with the final 1/3 being paid upon satisfactory completion of the project.
- Put a contract in writing that details the job, the start date, along with the projected completion date. It should also include such things as proof of insurance and worker’s compensation payments, the materials to be used, and payment schedule. If subcontractors are going to be involved, the contract should say so and require that the contractor obtain a lien release that protects you if the contractor doesn’t pay their bills to subcontractors and the suppliers. In addition, make sure the contract has a “hold harmless” clause that protects you if someone is injured or their property is damaged while the contractor is underway on your project.
- Make sure you are provided with all warranty information on the products and materials used during the project.
Above all else, watch out for sleazy practices that can make a good project go bad. Contractors who drum up business by going door to door or soliciting by phone are best avoided. So should those who offer unrealistically long guarantees. A contractor who shows up at your door and just happens to have “leftover” materials from his last job is a bad sign. If they insist on cash, won’t provide a contract, want you to obtain the needed permits, or pressures you with a special price that will expire if you don’t sign immediately --they should be avoided as well.
Hopefully, after reading, you will be better prepared to avoid the many pitfalls of contractor selection. You’ll have peace of mind, leaving your home in the hands of a professional that will complete the job to your satisfaction, while improving your quality of life and the value of your home. Also, knowing all of the time and effort that went into this selection process, you can recommend your contractor to your friends, making their choice that much easier.