Tips for Hiring a
Know what you want.
Have a picture in your mind as to what you want your home
improvement project to look like when it is done. Make a list of all
the things you want done. Be as specific as you can be with this
list. That way, when it comes time to talk with the contractor, you
know what you want and can explain it so they understand your
Get bids from different contractors. Three bids should be the minimum, but a half dozen will
give you a better selection to choose from. You will have a
good idea of appropriate costs, and the caliber of work that
each contractor will provide. For example, one contractor may
offer a bargain rate and marginal work; another's high bid could
You should always establish some minimum credentials. Get
the full company name and address, license and policy numbers
and verify that they are current. Make sure the contractor you
choose has adequate insurance coverage. Check for any formal
complaints or legal actions that may have occurred in the past
or are pending.
Look into the contractor's work history and work habits.
Some contractors are specialists and some are generalists, so
make sure their abilities are suited to your project. Take time
to see their work firsthand, and look for similarity to your
project, quality materials and workmanship, and consistent
client satisfaction. You want to make sure you are dealing with
a professional. Are your phone calls returned in a timely
manner? Are appointments and meeting times kept? Do company
vehicles and/or dress code reflect pride and cleanliness?
Carelessness in these small matters does not bode well for the
quality of work.
Set boundaries for the job site. Let the company know you expect routine precautions,
such as employee background checks for anyone who will have
access to your home. Also, establish some ground rules about
parking, bathroom use, smoking, and other issues that might
Know what you'll be paying for. Everyone loves a free estimate, but if the project
cost will exceed several thousand dollars, contractors likely
will prepare (and charge for) a "scope of work proposal."
Typically, this proposal will break down the job budget into
line-item costs for labor, materials, fees, and so on, or at
least will offer specifics about the tasks the contractor will
perform (demolition, installation, cleanup) and what products
will be used. The proposal fee often is paid up front and
applied toward the project cost if the bid is accepted.
Contractors will often give you a fixed bid, but some work on a
"cost plus" basis, charging you for materials, time/labor, and
an administrative or overhead fee. This is sometimes a
legitimate alternative, but it should have a cap or some
provision to contain cost overruns.
Have a strategy for how you will resolve differences.
Any contractor you hire will become part of your life for at
least the duration of the project. Make sure you pick someone
with whom you can communicate, and trust your gut if first
impressions leave you feeling uneasy. Reputable professionals
will insist on clear written agreements in order to protect both
parties. During initial meetings, ask how unexpected issues or
differences might be handled. This can include change orders
(these should always be in writing, with cost issues directly
noted) or more serious disputes, such as unintended damage or a
failure to meet legal or reasonable standards.
aware of contract details. A contract should include start and completion dates,
information on applicable building permits and fees (typically
handled by the contractor, but legally your responsibility), a
description of what products and services are to be provided by
the contractor, payment terms, subcontractor issues (such as
license and insurance verification and warranty of workmanship),
and the consequences of default by either party. Default can
include a contractor's failure to pay subcontractors; the
contract should exclude you from liability in the event that
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