No matter what time of year or type of home you have, there's probably always something that needs to be done. Some of it you can do yourself, but if you don't have the time, or ability, most likely there are many contractors in your area ready to help out.
Working with contractors has its challenges. How do you find the best one? Will they get back to you? Will they - and can they - guarantee their work? Will they clean up after they work on your residence, or even business?
Here are some suggestions to help you choose a contractor and make sure your contractor does the job that you hired their firm to do.
Hiring a Contractor
Hiring a contractor is very similar to searching for other trustworthy professionals.
Get Names and Numbers
- Get referrals from friends, relatives and coworkers
- Get written bids from several contractors, based on the same requirements for the job. If a contractor doesn't get back to you, don't bother following up unless you really think they would be the best fit.
- Contact your local Better Business Bureau to find out how long a contractor has been in business and whether there have been complaints against the contractor
Questions to Ask
- Ask about membership in any professional builders or remodelers' organizations or associations
- Ask for proof of insurance against workers' compensation claims, property damage and personal liability in the case of injuries
- Ask for local references including his bank
- Check with local construction authorities to be sure a contractor meets local licensing and bonding requirements
- Compare contractors' bids, with identical materials to be used and time allowed for the project
- Remember that cheaper doesn't always mean better
Get It in Writing
Once you've chosen a general contractor for your project, you should get all agreements and promises in writing up front to protect yourself. Don't sign anything you don't understand, and don't be afraid to make changes to the written agreement before signing it.
The Contract Terms
- Both the contractor's and your name, address, phone and any other contact information
- A detailed description of all the work to be done
- A detailed description of the materials to be used, including brand names, size, weight and so forth
- Starting and completion dates - You'll probably get estimates, but try to get a fairly exact time frame
- Total costs, and the hourly rate for labor
- A payment schedule for the project - Your aim should be to pay as little upfront as possible and to make regular payments throughout the project, with the right to withhold payments if the work has not been completed to your satisfaction
- Any guarantees or warranties the contractor is making about workmanship or products
- A statement allowing you to cancel the contract within so many business days under your state's laws
- A statement allowing you to cancel the contract after the work has begun if you find unexpected or hidden problems like serious plumbing problems after the job has begun that the contractor can't take care of.
- The bonding and licensing numbers of the contractor
- The contractor's responsibility to pay any subcontractors before you make final payment to the general contractor
- The contractor's responsibility to obtain any necessary permits
- What happens if the work isn't completed according to the contract
Beware of Scams
Some contractors promise more than they can deliver, and they may offer you "special deals" for things that you really don't want.
To protect yourself from getting taken advantage of:
- Let anyone pressure you into signing a contract you don't understand and haven't thoroughly read through
- Agree to financing arrangements that you can't afford
- Agree to any type of financing without first comparing prices and interest rates, so you know you're getting a good deal
So much of most projects that are done well are thoughtfully planned out. You may have the best appliances, products and materials, if the work done putting it together isn't the best it doesn't make a difference. Take your time when searching for a contractor even if you're in a pinch to get the project done.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What parts of a contract should I be the most concerned about?
- The contractor won't let me make any changes to the contract or let someone else review it. Should I be worried?
- Are there additional steps I can take to prevent problems from occurring? Where should I turn if I do have problems?