When hiring a contractor to do work at your home, you want someone who is honest and competent. This is especially important when hiring a small contracting firm or individual. Here’s how to go about finding the right person for the job.
Before looking for a contractor, plan your project. Gather pictures of the look you want for your home. Have a specific plan in mind. Know your budget, what your money will buy and how much wiggle room you have.
Start with personal recommendations from friends and family. It’s hard to beat a first-hand recommendation. Aim for three recommended names. Online sites such as Home Advisor can help. Yelp and other review sites provide customer feedback, but keep in mind that unhappy customers are up to three times as likely to vent online as happy customers are to provide a positive review.
The Better Business Bureau provides good insight on a company’s reputation, how long it has been in businesses, required licenses and any governmental sanctions. Obtain the company or individual’s license number, when one is required, and check the appropriate state agency records. A company that has been in business a long time is a good sign.
When you have settled on three names, call and schedule each to come to your house. Having three estimates helps establish a fair price. The cheapest is not always the best deal, nor is the most expensive the best work. Look beyond price at the value to be delivered. Get everything in writing, listing what is included and excluded. Trust your instincts when making your selection.
Here are key questions to ask:
- Does the contractor take projects your size, whether large or small?
- Can the contractor give you a list of past customers to contact? (Tip: When you call, ask if they know other former customers. In other words, get references from his references.)
- How many other jobs will run simultaneously with yours, and how many workers will be available?
- Ask for names of any subcontractors, then do online research on them, if available.
- Ask for bonding and insurance documentation.
- Ask for a detailed price quote on materials, time, labor, etc. Materials should be about 40 percent of the cost, with labor, profit and incidental costs covering the rest.
- The contractor should guarantee the work in writing. Be sure to get any receipts and product warranties for materials.
- Ask for a payment schedule on large jobs such as remodels. A normal down payment would be 10 percent, then a series of even payments over the course of the project, with a final payment upon completion. If a contractor asks for a large percentage up front, he may be strapped for cash, which is a red flag.
Communicate with the contractor every day and survey the work. If you make changes along the way, known as a change order, put the work description and cost in writing as an addendum to your original agreement.
When you are satisfied with the work, make the final payment, and get a “paid in full” receipt. Don’t pay until satisfied, but be careful not to nitpick. Ask for a written release of lien from your contractor and all subcontractors. This means that there will be no open mechanic’s lien against your home, an encumbrance on your title.
Do your best to work out any disputes reasonably. Keep disagreements polite and business-like. If you cannot resolve things, contact the Better Business Bureau, which has a dispute resolution process. If you hired the contractor through a site such as Home Advisor, contact it to look into your case. When posting online reviews, be factual and fair.