Unless you are a contractor, electrician, plumber, or have high level DIY skills, there’s a good chance that you’ve found yourself lost at the beginning, middle, or end of a home improvement project. Even the most DIY-happy among us sometimes need help – whether it’s help with dangerous, major electrical work, help plumbing, help moving a wall, or even something as simple as help moving items to and from storage. Whatever you come across, you need to know how to find a good contractor for the job. Here are some tips.
Utilize three separate communication tactics
Checking online reviews, even at stellar review sites like Angie’s List, is not enough to choose a good contractor. You should start online, which is where you’ll find the greatest depth of information. But after that, you want to go specific.
Call your prospective contractors on the phone and interview them. You are hiring them, and you should treat it like you’re an employer and they are prospective employees. Ask as many questions as you can about their previous work and clients, how they hire subcontractors, their experience level, and more. Once you narrow it down to a few options, it’s time for a face-to-face meeting. This part is critical.
“Based on the phone interviews, pick three or four contractors to meet for estimates and further discussion. A contractor should be able to answer your questions satisfactorily and in a manner that puts you at ease … it’s crucial that you two communicate well because this person will be in your home for hours at a time,” notes ThisOldHouse.com.
Red flag alert: Any contractor that is not more-than-happy to answer any questions you have, provide references, and show examples of their work should be treated with extreme caution.
Avoid outlier estimates
You need to get estimates from multiple contractors so that you can determine what’s reasonable and average, and what’s an outlier. For high bids, consider that the contractor could be marking up supply costs too much.
“Most contractors include an outline of the materials cost for a full accounting of the project. Since some contractors can get carried away with marking up prices, you might want to call the suppliers yourself to determine how much the materials cost without the mark-up. This will help you figure out if the contractor’s mark-up is reasonable,” suggests AngiesList.com
For low bids, consider why they are so low. If you’re remodeling your entire bathroom and the contractor tries to low-bid with $1500, it should send up a red flag. Are they cutting corners? Are they paying their workers enough? It’s tempting to want to save money at all costs, but beware of super low estimates.
The contract can tell you a great deal
The form of the contract can tell you a great deal about the contractor. A good contractor will provide you with a detailed contract that itemizes all expenses. Never accept a blank contract and never accept one that works in too many “totals” or lump sums. Also be wary of paying too much up front.
“You don’t want a contractor to use your money to finish someone else’s job. [Some contractors will] occasionally ask for up to 30 percent if expensive materials are needed immediately. The contract should include a payment schedule and triggers for progress payments,” says US News.
You wouldn’t let someone babysit your kids, work on your car, or provide care for a elderly family member without doing a lot of research. Hiring a contractor for home improvements should be no different. Before you allow people access to your home, you should be 100% sure that you feel comfortable with their skills and business practices.
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