Top Ten: Choosing a Contractor

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Are you planning to build or remodel your home? Is there a repair project that requires a contractor? DIY isn’t for everyone, and, particularly for big projects, it’s often better and safer to hire a pro rather than do the work yourself. One of the main choices you’ll have to make is choosing a contractor. Delays, subpar work, and legal problems are just a few of the issues resulting from selecting the wrong contractor for your job and home. While there are many ways to choose a contractor, the following are ten tips for choosing a professional contractor and ensuring a good working relationship. 

  1. Do Your Homework

The best thing you can do is get curious: ask for referrals, look at credentials, check references, review samples, interview candidates, ask questions. Do your homework on the job you want done and understand the potential limitations and type of experience required. With references, referrals, and questions in hand, interview potential candidates. Remember, you’re buying a service, not a product. The quality of service will determine the quality of the finished product.

  1. Go with Your Gut

Choosing the right contractor for your home and job is a big deal. A contractor could be in your home and around your family for days, weeks, or even months while changing the way your house looks and functions. Interview potential contractors and go with your gut. During the interview and bidding process, if you don’t like a contractor for any reason, something they say or do doesn’t sit well with you, if you can’t find enough research on them or the company, or you have questions you can’t get a clear answer to, don’t hire him or her. Trust your instincts.

  1. Subcontractors or not?

The contractor is not the only person that will be coming to your home to do the work. They have a team that will do the work, and that team may change depending on which part of the project they are assigned. Subcontractors often specialize, so their expertise may be perfect for that specific portion of the job. Larger jobs and jobs involving plumbing and electricity often require multiple subcontractors to do particular aspects of the job. The goal is to know who will be coming to your home, what part of the project they’ll be working on, and when they will be there. Hiring a contractor you can trust is vital because they will likely never use an unscrupulous subcontractor.

  1. Get curious

Ask questions so both you and your potential contractor are clear about the job and the work to be done. And allow the contractor to answer your questions. Advocate for yourself, but don’t assume they are going to cheat you. Curiosity will enable you to ask those questions without being defensive. The more curious you get, the more you’ll learn and be able to ask during another interview or future project.

  1. Make Sure the Contractor is Licensed, Bonded, and Insured to Work in Your Area.

Having a license and insurance demonstrates a contractor’s credibility and knowledge, as well as their integrity. Besides showing that the contractor has taken an exam and knows building codes and processes, a license minimizes homeowners’ risk of getting ripped off. Insurance keeps you out of the loop if someone gets hurt or damage to there is damage to your property or a neighbor’s property. Ask for proof of license and insurance.

  1. Clarify the plan for working around your home.

Create a plan with your contractor for work times in and around your home. If you don’t want the workers showing up before a specific time, staying past a certain hour, using your bathroom, or you need to have the project finished by a specific date, tell the contractor before you hire him or her. By clarifying your limits and communicating those expectations with your contractor, you can both agree on a mutual plan and experience less stress and misunderstandings.

  1. Think about your pets

Work on your home at any time can be stressful for your pets. A pet can be an excellent indicator of an unspoken problem. When interviewing contractors be observant of your pet’s response to this new person in their home. Bring the pet into the conversation when working out the work plan and set ground rules for both the contractor and the family. Create a plan to reduce anxiety on the pet and eliminate accidental escapes or potential injuries or trauma on the pet. For example, keep the pet(s) in a designated room or take them to doggie daycare while workers are at your home. Above all, communicate with the contractor where the pet will be during construction hours.

  1. Know what your responsibilities are.

Will the contractor move everything out of a room so the space can be painted or remove a fence so a concrete truck can be driven into your backyard? Or are those things that will require your attention? Don’t assume the contractor and their workers will do those types of tasks. Clarify those details and expectations in writing.

  1. Think Locally

Area contractors who have been in business for a long time are usually reliable and safe bets for projects. If they didn’t do good work in your community, they wouldn’t still be around. Shopping local also helps your community and local economy. Ask your neighbors for recommendations and consider that the company is likely involved in the community and uses local workers. Additionally, the chance that they will be attentive if there’s a problem is high as their reputation in the community, and by extension, their business depends on those relationships.

  1. Get Everything in Writing
    Once you’ve narrowed down your choice for a contractor and feel comfortable with the plan, get it in writing. Scrutinize the contract making sure you both are on the same page. Do the contract and the work look professional? Does it seem fair and balanced? What are the procedures if someone breaches the contract? Does the legal agreement include the following, as applicable to your project?
  • A bid price and payment schedule
  • Specifics about the scope of work
  • The site plan
  • A sequential schedule of primary, secondary, tertiary construction tasks
  • A change-order clause
  • A written procedural list for close-out
  • A warranty
  • A clause about dispute resolution
  • A waiver of lien, preventing subcontractors and suppliers from putting a lien on a house should their invoices go unpaid by the contractor.

If everything checks out, you can sign on the dotted line with confidence.

Bonus Tip: Check homeowners insurance policy. If the work you are having done is repairs, check with your insurance company to determine if your policy will cover some, if not all, of the work. Some contractors will even help you gather the information you need to file with your insurance company.

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