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April 27, 2017 | home-renovations

Contractor Quest: 10 Tips for Hiring a Contractor

If you’ve never tried to find an affordable, reliable contractor to tackle your home renovation project, be forewarned: It could be quite the process.

That may be doubly true in 2017, which is shaping up to be a busy construction year. Some 36,000 new construction jobs were added nationwide in January, a boost in industry employment unmatched since March of 2016. In some locations, that may mean your inquiring phone calls will go unanswered even when you have money in hand and clear plans for moving forward.

Further, finding the right person who can make your visions a reality can be challenging.

“It can be difficult to hire contractors and know what you’re getting,” notes Angie Hicks, founder of online business rating service Angie's List, on “You’re spending a lot of money, and you’re dealing with your home. If they do it wrong, there can be a whole lot of heartache.”

That said, a little legwork can also pay off with a great hire. A few suggestions for making that happen:

  1. Think Ahead: Don’t wait until you’re desperate to start the renovation process; the best contractors tend to be busy and may not be able to schedule you in right away.
  2. Determine Whether You Need A Contractor or Subcontractor: Understand exactly what your project entails. Big projects like home additions typically require a contractor because they involve work in several trades, while subcontractors handle specialty work such as plumbing and electrical.
  3. Do Your Research: Call suppliers and/or look around online to understand the typical labor and material costs for your project in your given city; that helps you go into the bidding process with eyes wide open.
  4. Ask Friends, Relatives, Neighbors, Co-workers and/or Acquaintances in The Building Trades for References: You could also check out Angie’s List,Yelp or Google ratings. Scam alert: Do be very wary of door-to-door solicitors, those who have no local address, those who are only reachable by phone, those who only accept cash payments, or anyone who tries to pressure you into a quick decision.
  5. Check Work History: While narrowing down candidates, ask how long they’ve been in business, whether they’re insured and licensed (some don’t have to be), whether they belong to a trade association, and whether they’re experienced in the work you have in mind. Consider asking for document copies and checking the Better Business Bureau and local court records for problems.
  6. Check Work Quality: Ask for photos of previous work as well as references; current ongoing customers are preferable because they can confirm current skills and work ethic.
  7. Solicit Three Bids: When possible, choose contenders of different sizes. Agree on bid deadlines, and disqualify those who miss them. Ensure each bid is for the same materials and services. And don’t hesitate to negotiate final terms. As a rule of thumb, plan to spend 10 to 15 percent more than any given bid due to complications during the project.
  8. Get It In Writing: Your final contract should include details about what the worker will and will not do, what materials will be used, who will conduct each portion of the work, where materials will be sourced, and date of completion, in addition to incidental details such as permissible work hours, frequency of cleanup, use of your home facilities by workers, etc. You might also request lien releases from your contractor’s workers in case he fails to pay them. Read all portions before signing, asking for clarification on any jargon. Require any changes after the fact to be confirmed via a detailed, mutually signed change order.
  9. Confirm Your Payment Schedule: Experts recommend an initial down payment of no more than 10 to 30 percent, with progress payments negotiable and the final payment due upon completion.
  10. Ensure The Contractor Secures A Permit Before Starting: Most home renovations require permits, but unethical contractors may try to convince you otherwise.

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As long as you begin the process with a good understanding of what to expect, your project should be a success.

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