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How to Choose the Right Contractor for Your Home Improvement

Every homeowner comes face to face with the need to repair, upgrade or modify some aspect of their living environment from time to time. While some homeowners are talented when it comes to construction, building, repairing or painting, many others lack the time, knowledge or energy to tackle even the most basic of home repairs. This is where the services of a contractor come in quite handy.

When seeking the services of a professional contractor, it’s important to have a set of guidelines to help you pick someone who is both capable and trustworthy in providing the best possible results for your needs. Before you sign on with the first contractor who gives you a quote on your job you should find out the answers to some vital questions.

  1. Find out just how long the contractor has been in business. While there are many talented contractors out there just getting their start in the business, there is also an uncomfortable number of con artists and scammers out there just looking for unsuspecting consumers to dupe. A decent track record should be a must before you consider any contractor.
  2. Find the right contractor for your job. Ask how many times this contractor has done a project similar to yours. As a follow up to this information, ask for references from those past customers to make sure the quality and timeliness of the project are acceptable to you. Make sure you actually contact those past customers. Don’t just trust the contractor to tell you there are satisfied homeowners on their resume. Verify all references for yourself.
  3. Contractors work with potentially dangerous equipment or may need to be perched on ladders or rooftops to complete their project. Ask for written proof of liability insurance and workers’ compensation. You never want to be held responsible for what might happen on the job. It’s a good idea to hire a bonded contractor, as well, to protect against possible theft while the contractor is in your home.
  4. Find out who will be in charge while the contractor crew is on site. The person you sign the contract with may only be a salesperson for the company who disappears after a contract has been negotiated. The actual workers may be a different group entirely. You need to know who to speak with if you have questions or concerns while the crew is working. If requirements or specifications change during the course of the project, you will need easy access to someone in authority who can authorize those changes.
  5. Clarify with your contractor whether or not they will be performing all of the labor required or will there be subcontractors involved. If there are subcontractors, you should obtain written copies of their liability insurance, workers’ compensation and bonding documents. Anyone who enters your home or works in or around your house has the potential to create a liability situation for you.
  6. It never hurts to get several quotes for your project. If the price sounds too good to be true, there’s a good chance you’re hiring someone who will take shortcuts when it comes to overall work. A common rule of thumb is to obtain at least three written quotes and throw out the lowest and the highest bid. Of course, it’s a little more complicated than just basing your selection on price, but there tends to be a healthy range where fair pricing meets realistic expectations.
  7. Find out upfront who will be responsible for cleanup during and after the project, as well as how and when the debris created during the project will be removed. Don’t just assume the contractor will haul away the scrap after the job is done. This should be part of the written scope of the project.

The best way to find the right contractor for your particular job is through the recommendation of friends and family who have already had positive experiences. It’s also a good idea to check with consumer protection agencies in your area. Read the reviews, especially the ones that give specific details about what went right and what went wrong before you narrow down your choices. Remember, you will have to live with the results of your home improvement project for years to come. Doing your homework ahead of time will alleviate a lot of problems later.

You should also consider avoiding home contractors who ask to be paid upfront. If your contractor takes off or does poor work, you may not get all of your money back (not to mention attorneys’ fees should you pursue legal action). There are jobs where a deposit is normal and required. If your job requires the purchase of nonreturnable, custom-ordered products, the supplier often asks for a 50 percent deposit. The contractor needs to supply this, or the homeowner can pay it directly to the supplier.

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