Anyone who has read some of the contractor horror stories that are posted on various news sites and blogs understands how important it is to choose the right contractor for a home remodeling job. However, knowing the importance of the choice is only half the battle. The other half of the battle is knowing how to make the choice. The following guidelines will help you make an informed decision on the best contractor for you and your home.
Before the Search
You should take several preliminary measures before you begin your search for a contractor. Even though you are not the one who will be doing the work, planning is not to be taken lightly. You need to plan exactly what you want remodeled, and you should have a general idea of what you want it to look like when the job is finished. Your plans do not have to be perfect. You just need something to get you started that can be shared with the contractor. You should also have a budget in mind for the job.
You may want to consider hiring an architect or designer before talking to a contractor. Most major remodeling jobs require a professional designer. Make sure you are working with a designer experienced in remodeling projects. The designer should also be able to work within your budget and provide a rough estimate of the cost. When you have the blueprints, you can start to think about hiring a contractor.
Some contractors do both design and construction. Using a combination contractor is often more convenient than hiring two separate companies. Advantages of hiring a contractor who also does remodeling design include saving time, getting a more accurate estimate of the project cost, and reducing the risk of miscommunication between the designer and the contractor.
Many simple remodeling jobs do not require a designer at all. If you are just getting a new roof, having new windows installed, or constructing a deck, then a designer is not usually required. For simple jobs, most contractors will have several basic designs available in their repertoire that will meet your needs.
Locate Several Contractors
The prevailing wisdom is that anyone who requires a contractor for their remodeling project should interview at least three qualified candidates. The best resources for locating contractors are your friends and family. It is hard to go wrong with a personal recommendation, but you will still want to follow through with the rest of these guidelines because whoever made the recommendation may have just been lucky.
If your friends and family do not have any recommendations for you, then look through some local advertisements. Always try to stay local. Contractors working within their communities have the most to lose should they not complete the job to your satisfaction. The news of one bad job can spread like wildfire and cost the contractor thousands of dollars in lost opportunities.
After you have chosen at least three contractors to interview, schedule a time to meet with each of them separately. Discuss the details of your project with them, and ask for an estimate of the time and cost. You are not necessarily looking for the contractor who can do the job in least amount of time for the least amount of money. In fact, an offer that is substantially lower than the others may indicate that the contractor will be cutting corners or using substandard materials.
Verify License Information
Most states require a contractor to display his or her license number on all advertisements, business cards, written estimates and contracts. However, a license number is not necessarily valid just because it is displayed. You should always verify a contractor’s license. This can be done through your state’s licensing board or commerce department.
When the contractor arrives to give you an estimate, ask to see his or her license. A contractor is required to carry a copy of the license or a pocket license when on the job. In addition to the contractor’s license, you should also ask to see a driver’s license because a contractor’s license does not usually include a photo of the contractor.
Verify Location and Contact Information
It is a prudent step to verify more than the contractor’s license status. You should also verify the contractor’s telephone number and business location. It is a good idea to avoid contractors who operate from their vehicles and who can only be contacted through cell phone numbers. This can make it very easy for them to disappear should they choose to do so.
Ask about Insurance Coverage
All contractors should have general liability insurance, and if they have employees, then they should also have workers’ compensation coverage. While general liability insurance is not a requirement in most states, this coverage will protect you should the contractor damage your property. If the contractor does not have this insurance, then you may have to pay for the damages out of your own pocket or through your property insurance.
Workers’ compensation coverage for employees is a requirement for contractors in most states. Without this coverage, you could be liable for any injuries suffered by workers on your property.
Most states require contractors to be bonded, but some bonds do not cover every aspect of a remodeling job. A license bond will cover your project only up to the amount of the surety bond. For instance, California requires contractors to carry license bonds for $12,500. If your remodeling job costs more than this, then the excess amount will not be covered unless the contractor acquires a contract bond.
A contract bond guarantees the completion of the job as per the contract. If you are obtaining a loan for your remodeling job, then your lender will probably require this type of bond to be purchased before the funds are released.
Read the Contract
Signing a contract is your final acceptance of a contractor. Before signing a contract, you should make sure it includes all of the following details:
- All materials and labor are itemized.
- Financial terms are clear, including price, payments and fees.
- Warranties are written into the contract or provided in a separate document.
- Local code restrictions are outlined in the contract.
Finally, you should never sign the contract unless you understand everything in it. If you do not understand all of the terms, then go over the contract with a third party before signing it.