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8 Tips for Hiring a Contractor

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Finding the right contractor takes some preparation and insight.

Being a homeowner is stressful at times, especially when you need a major repair or a large project taken care of. You need a contractor, but where do you start? And how can you be sure you’re hiring one who will do the work well and at a fair price? Here are some quick tips on how to hire a contractor that should help demystify the process.


1. Know exactly what you want done

If you’re planning a project, it will streamline your contractor search if you know what they will need to focus on before you get started. A basement finishing project might include adding electrical outlets, HVAC duct work, and perhaps plumbing for a spare bathroom, as well as drywall work. A simple bathroom remodel might only include tiling a shower, or it could start with a full demolition down to the studs.


2. Talk to friends, family and neighbors

Getting a friend’s recommendation on a contractor to call (or ones to avoid) can be the best way to slim down a long list of potential contacts. Social media offers you the chance to ask for recommendations, read reviews, and add your own experiences. You can also look for business information with your local Better Business Bureau or chamber of commerce. The BBB has a helpful article on avoiding scams. Going with someone who lives and works in your area, versus a traveling contractor who may not stand by their work, is typically a safer bet, especially after a storm when “fly-by-night” repair groups tend to descend on damaged locations.


3. Have a list of questions ready

It’s best to have a kind of mini interview with each contractor before you hire them. Lots of time your gut feelings can steer you in the right direction. If you’re a stickler for work to start on time, and you talk to a contractor who seems a bit “loose” with schedules, then that might not make a good fit. Make a list of questions ahead of time and compare answers from different contractors you speak to.


4. Ask for references and samples of work

You can often get to the heart of a contractor’s work by seeing it in progress or talking to a recent client. Ask to speak to two or three recent past clients and/or to see their past work. If the contractor’s style aligns with your own, then it’s likely you won’t butt heads on aesthetics of your own job.


5. Price out the job

Your contractor may have to use a small army of subcontractors to get your project finished, depending on the complexity. They should be able to price out materials, labor, and any potential overtime costs depending on your preferences. An itemized estimate helps you to see where your money could go, and what could shift depending on any changes in supplies or manpower needed.


6. Get a timeline

Contractors are in high demand, as are their subcontractor crews. If your area was hit by recent severe weather, you could be looking at weeks or even months before they can get started. Outdoor projects can be slowed by poor weather, while any project can be put on hold by supply chain issues. And if they get pulled away to another job in the middle of your project, you could be looking at a half-finished job for days or weeks as well. You can ask your contractor in advance how many projects they plan on performing at the same time as yours. It’s a common enough practice for crews to work on multiple job sites, but if they’re stretched too thin, you could be waiting for them to fit you in.


7. Ask to see current licenses

Contractors should come fully licensed and insured to work on your property. Accidents can happen, and you want them to be fully prepared to handle any problems. Specifically, you should be able to easily get current proof of liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance from your contractor. You can verify their insurance with the company itself.


8. Get a contract in writing

You should sign a detailed agreement with your contractor to settle on the project details including materials to be used, a timeframe for starting and finishing, and itemized prices. While a handshake agreement is friendly, getting a legal document together is a must-do to protect your investment in your home. You’ll likely need to pay a downpayment to secure the project at the time of signing (around 10%), but you may also be able to negotiate a partial payment plan during the project’s timeframe. Ask about discounts for cash payments, or paying more up front, but always get receipts for each payment.

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