Are you finally ready to tackle that home improvement project that's been on your mind? Are tiling that floor or painting that garage a little out of your league? Or depending you do not have the time or energy to finish it yourself. If so, then you're probably wondering how to find a good contractor.
Horror stories abound about contractors who never finish the job. Or worse, they finish the job so poorly that the costs to repair the damage are much higher than you originally agreed to pay. How do you avoid getting taken for an emotionally and financially costly ride?
First, decide what kind of contractor you want to hire. Are you going to be there to supervise the work? If so, then hiring the young man down the block who hangs out a shingle as a contractor might not be a bad idea. Or, if you're a bit braver, you might hire someone down-and-out who's looking for work. Just keep in mind that when you hire this kind of contractor, you're essentially stepping into the role of employer. Depending on the laws of your city and state, you may also be taking on certain legal responsibilities. You may be responsible if that person gets injured on the job, for example.
If you're not willing to supervise, then you'll need to know how to read contractor's ads. You can find these ads in the yellow pages, the classified section of your newspaper, online on sites such as Craig's List, and at lumber yards or home improvement stores. (Lumber yards and stores will typically decline to recommend a contractor to you. They do not want to be held responsible for your results. But they often allow contractors to post business cards.) Keep in mind that the people who place these ads may Be too new to the business and inexperienced to live up to the promises of their ads.
Look for ads that mention how long this person or company has been in business. If they've been in business in your area for a long time, then chances are, they have some satisfied customers. Always check to see that the contractor is licensed, bonded and insured. Most importantly, follow up. Call the city or county to make sure that the contractor's license and bond are up to date. Ask the contractor to have his or her insurance company send you proof of insurance. Most people know to ask, "Are you licensed, bonded and insured?" But few follow up to make sure the information given is accurate.
Call your local building department. If the contractor has been in your area long, the building department will at least have heard of him or her. If they have not, then the person probably is not licensed, bonded and insured, or at least does not pull permits.
References from people you know who have been satisfied with work they've had an excellent way to choose a contractor. Most contractors will provide references, but since they've hand-picked these references themselves, they'll typically be slanted in the contractor's favor. Take them with a grain of salt, but follow up on them. Some people will still give you good information. Ask:
O Whether the job was completed satisfactorily
O Whether the contractor showed up when he / she said he / she was going to
O Whether the contractor called before being late
O Whether the contractor was easy to get hold of when questions came up
O How long the job took
As the customer, you will want the job done as quickly as possible. Just keep in mind that many contractors are self-employed and used to making their own schedules. It may be well worth putting up with temporary inconveniences to have a job done professionally and accurately. Communication is key, though.
You can also learn a lot about contractors when they come to your home to give you an estimate. Ask this person if he or she is the one who will be doing the actual work. Is this person the contractor, a representative, or a salesperson? Will the work be contracted out? Find out who you, the customer, will talk to when you have questions or problems. And keep in mind that some contractors are better at sales than they are at contracting.
A contractor's bid will also tell you a lot about him or her. How has this contractor billed for the work to be done: hourly, one ballpark figure that covers all the work, or in an itemized list? Some contractors, especially plumbers and electricians doing repairs, charge by the hour. You'll have no way of knowing what the total cost will be, so ask for a "cap," or maximum amount you're willing to spend, in writing. You would not want to pay for other jobs, such as painting or carpentry, by the hour.
A ballpark figure is better, but make sure that the details of what work will be done for that amount of money is in writing. Do not assume that something will be included without your contractor specifically telling you so- and writes it down. An unscrupulous contractor can promise you the world, but if you do not have it in writing, you do not have a leg to stand on.
An itemized bid creates the least confusion, and also allows you to pick and choose. You and your contractor should also discuss, and have in writing, how the contractor will be paid. When it comes to paying a contractor for a mid-sized job (a kitchen, bathroom or basement remodel, for example), give the contractor one quarter to one third of the total amount. If the job is progressing, follow that up with weekly installments (including materials, which are generally billed separately). Retain at least $ 500 to $ 1000 until the job is completely finished. Beware of any contractor who wants to be paid the full amount up front.
Hiring a contractor does not have to be scary, as long as you've done a little homework; It's worth your time. Your home is your most important investment. Treat it with the respect it describes.