How to Find and Select a Reliable Contractor

Whether you are planning to finish your basement, add a new kitchen or remodel a bathroom, or simply adding storm windows to lower your heating and air conditioning costs, finding a competent and reliable contractor is the most important step in successful, satisfying home improvement projects. Hiring a quality contractor isn't simple. It takes more than making a phone call and selecting the first person who answers. Homeowners have found home improvement companies vary widely in terms of cost, professionalism, availability, and expertise.

Take time and research so you can select the right contractor. It can easily save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars and plus equally as many headaches. Follow these simple guidelines:

Get at least 3 estimates on any project. Different contractors will bid the same project at completely different prices. Be sure the proposal covers the same scope and quality of work. You must compare "apples to apples and oranges to oranges."

Verify the contractors license and certificate of insurance. Most states require a contractor to carry worker's compensation, property damage and personal liability insurance, but many contractors still don't have it or have let their policy lapse. If they do not have the necessary coverage you may be held liable for their injured employee or damage to your home or a neighbors home caused by the contractor.

Always investigate local references. Don't be afraid to call them and ask specific questions like: "Were you satisfied with the work?" "Did they start and finish on time?" "Was there ample communication between the contractor and homeowner?" Often, a contractor will think he did a great job on project and use the customer as a reference, although the customer feels differently about the job.

Your home is probably your most valuable financial asset. It is important to be cautious when you hire someone to work on it. Home improvement and repair and maintenance contractors advertise in the Yellow Pages including online versions, in newspapers, and on the radio and TV. However, don’t consider any ad as an indication of the quality of a contractor’s work. Your best bet is a reality check from those in the know: friends, neighbors, or co-workers who have had improvement work done. If looking online look for customer ratings. Get written estimates from several firms. Ask for explanations for price variations. Do not automatically choose the lowest bidder.

Ask yourself, "Am I comfortable working with this person for the duration of the project?" The key to a successful relationship with your contractor and a successful project is communication. If you don't feel comfortable communicating with this person, problems will arise.

Home Improvement Professionals

Depending on the size and complexity of your project, you may choose to work with a number of different professionals:

  • General Contractors handle all aspects of a project, including hiring and supervising subcontractors, getting building permits, and scheduling inspections. They may also work with architects and designers where needed.
  • Specialty Contractors install particular products, such as kitchen cabinets or hardwood flooring.
  • Architects plan and design homes, additions, and major renovations. If your project includes structural changes, you need an architect specializing in residential remodeling.
  • Designers have expertise in specific areas of the home, such as kitchens and baths.
  • Design and Build Contractors may provide one-stop service. They see your project through from start to finish. Some have architects on staff; others use certified designers.

Don’t Get "Screwed"

Some contractors operate outside the law. Here are a few tip offs to rip offs. Less than reputable contractors often:

  • solicit door-to-door;
  • offers you a discounts for finding them additional customers
  • happen to have materials left over from a previous or cancelled job
  • Want only accepts cash payments, to save you tax, etc.
  • ask you to get the required permits
  • does not list a business number and address in your local telephone directory
  • tell you your job will be a showplace or a demonstration
  • pressure you for an immediate decision, ie while they are working in the neighborhood
  • offers exceptionally long guarantees - Note: a lifetime guarantee ends when they are out of business.
  • ask you to pre-pay for the entire job
  • suggest you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows