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How to choose a home improvement contractor
Whatever your home improvement project might be, chances are you’re going to want the help of a qualified professional at some point. So before you start letting someone knock down walls or rip up your yard, here are a few suggestions on how to choose a contractor.
Ask for recommendations
Start by consulting friends, family and neighbors who have had work done on their homes. Ask if their contractor showed up when expected, and if the job was finished with excellence, on time. Find out if there were unexpected costs and if so, how and why those happened. Also check local chat rooms and review sites; you can often get feedback that may impact your decisions.
Professional organizations such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry or the National Association of Home Builders may also be resources, as members are usually vetted and/or receive certifications that reflect their professional expertise.
Asking for recommendations from home inspectors or Realtors isn’t a bad idea either, as they often have experience with contractors who have successfully worked in the community, and are familiar with local requirements.
Interviewing contractor candidates
Now it’s time to make the calls. Gauging response time is the first indicator of the customer service you’ll receive.
Have a list of initial questions ready and write down answers and impressions. Get a sense of their professional approach by inquiring about necessary permits and their experience working with local building departments. Find out if they’re insured and licensed in your state. Also ask how many other projects they’d be managing alongside yours, to make sure they have the time and team to get your job done.
When you have a short list of candidates put together, meet in-person at the job site. Be prepared with photos, plans or renderings of your project’s “wish list.” See how potential contractors respond to your ideas and if they offer smart suggestions as to how to accomplish your goals. This will not only give you a sense of their experience, but—perhaps more importantly—reveal how well they’ll work with you.
Remember, finding the right contractor isn’t only about money. A good fit can be just as important. You should feel comfortable with his or her personality, methods and ability to communicate effectively. Clarity is crucial. The cost of a frustrating contractor-client relationship can potentially be measured in thousands of dollars.
Evaluating the bids
When you’ve narrowed your selection down to at least three choices, carefully review each contractor’s bid. These written estimates should detail the work to be completed, the materials required, the labor needed and the projected length of time it will take.
The cheapest bid will of course look appealing, but it isn’t necessarily the best – particularly if it’s significantly less than the other bids. Contractors who low-ball may be cutting corners. Homeowners who jump on a rock-bottom offer may wind up unsatisfied in the end, stuck with shoddy workmanship or poor materials.
Get it in writing
Large or small, every project needs a clear, unambiguous contract. Every little detail should be put in writing, from materials and equipment, to permit fees, work schedules and payment plans. Also understand the process and costs to make changes, as almost every project will have mid-course corrections or necessary fixes. Plan and budget for the unexpected. If a glitch comes up, it can be dealt with swiftly and effectively.
Also make sure to get valid certificates of insurance for your specific project. Assure your contractor is properly covered to protect your property and the people who are working on it.
While there are hundreds of details and hours of work that will determine the success of your home improvement, starting out with the right contractor is the first step in making sure the outcome is totally worth the effort.