Finding a good contractor is important — a home improvement project gone wrong can cost you. A good ad isn’t proof a contractor does quality work. Find out for yourself. Check with friends, neighbors, or co-workers who’ve had improvement work done, and check out a contractor’s reputation on online ratings sites you trust. Get written estimates from several firms, keeping in mind the lowest bidder may not be the best choice. Also important: know the signs of a scam.
Finding a Contractor
Depending on how big or complex a project is, you might hire a:
- General Contractor, who manages all aspects of a project, including hiring and supervising subcontractors, getting building permits, and scheduling inspections
- Specialty Contractor, who installs particular products like cabinets and bathroom fixtures
- Architect, who designs homes, additions, and major renovations — especially ones involving structural changes
- Designer or Design/Build Contractor, who provides both services
Do Your Research
- Check with friends, neighbors, or co-workers who’ve used a contractor. If you can, take a look at the work done and ask about their experience.
- Look at sites you trust that post ratings and reviews
- Do people seem to have similar experiences, good or bad? You also can check out a contractor’s online reputation by searching for the company’s name with words like “scam,” “rip-off,” or “complaint.”
- Find out how long they’ve been in business. Look for an established company whose record and reputation you can check out.
- Check for qualifications,
Before You Hire a Contractor
- Get Estimates
- Once you’ve narrowed your options, get written estimates from several firms. Don’t automatically choose the lowest bidder. Ask for an explanation to see if there’s a reason for the difference in price.
- Ask Questions! How many projects like mine have you completed in the last year?
- Ask for a list so you can see how familiar the contractor is with your type of project.
- Will my project require a permit?
- Most states and localities require permits for building projects, even for simple jobs like decks. A competent contractor will get all the necessary permits before starting work on your project. You may want to choose a contractor familiar with the permitting process in your county, city, or town.
- May I have a list of references?
- A contractor should be able to give you names, addresses, and phone numbers of at least three clients with projects like yours. Ask each client how long ago the project was and whether it was completed on time. Was the client satisfied? Were there any unexpected costs? Did workers show up on time and clean up after finishing the job? You also could tell the contractor that you’d like to visit jobs in progress.
- What types of insurance do you carry? Contractors should have:
- personal liability
- worker’s compensation
- property damage coverage
- Will you be using subcontractors on this project? If so, make sure the subcontractors have current insurance coverage and licenses, too, if required.
Where to find Contractors, Remodelers and other providers?
- National Association of Home Builders
- National Association of the Remodeling Industry
- HomeAdvisor – Free – Search and be connected with multiple Contractors for your job – all with ratings and reviews
- Thumbtack – Free – service where you describe your project on the website and you receive custom quotes within 24 hours to your email with the Contractor’s profile and reviews, along with contact information
- Angie’s List – Small subscription fee for search engine of Contractor’s with ratings and reviews – Contractor’s schedule directly with you to come bid project
Get a Written Contract
The Contract should be clear and concise and include the who, what, where, when, and cost of your project. Before you sign a contract, make sure it includes:
- the contractor’s name, address, phone, and license number
- an estimated start and completion date
- the payment schedule for the contractor, subcontractors, and suppliers (If using a Renovation Loan, ensure the Contractor is aware of payment details)
- the contractor’s obligation to get all necessary permits
- how change orders are handled. A change order is a written authorization to the contractor to make a change or addition to the work described in the original contract, and could affect the project’s cost and schedule.
- a detailed list of all materials including each product’s color, model, size, and brand. If some materials will be chosen later, the contract should say who’s responsible for choosing each item and how much money is budgeted for it (this is also known as the “allowance”).
- information about warranties covering materials and workmanship, with names and addresses of who is honoring them — the contractor, distributor, or manufacturer. The length of the warranty period and any limitations also should be spelled out.
- what the contractor will and won’t do. For example, is site clean-up and trash hauling included in the price? Ask for a “broom clause” that makes the contractor responsible for all clean-up work, including spills and stains.
- any promises made during conversations or calls. If they don’t remember, you may be out of luck — or charged extra.
After You Hire a Contractor
- Keep Records! Keep all paperwork related to your project in one place. This includes:
- copies of the contract
- change orders
- any correspondence with your home improvement professionals
- a record of all You may need receipts for tax purposes.
Keep a log or journal of all phone calls, conversations, and activities. You also might want to take photographs as the job progresses. These records are especially important if you have problems with your project — during or after construction.
- Pay Wisely
- Don’t make the final payment or sign an affidavit of final release until you’re satisfied
- Besides being satisfied with the work, you also need to know that subcontractors and suppliers have been paid. Laws in your state might allow them to file a mechanic’s lien against your home to satisfy their unpaid bills, forcing you to sell your home to pay them. Protect yourself by asking the contractor, and every subcontractor and supplier, for a lien release or lien waiver.
- Before you sign off and make the final payment, check that:
- all work meets the standards spelled out in the contract
- you have written warranties for materials and workmanship
- you have proof that all subcontractors and suppliers have been paid
- the job site has been cleaned up and cleared of excess materials, tools, and equipment
- you have inspected and approved the completed work
Signs of a Home Improvement Scam
How can you tell if a contractor might not be reputable? You may not want to do business with someone who:
- knocks on your door for business or offers you discounts for finding other customers
- just happens to have materials left over from a previous job
- pressures you for an immediate decision
- only accepts cash, asks you to pay everything up-front, or suggests you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows
- asks you to get the required building permits
- tells you your job will be a “demonstration” or offers a lifetime warranty or long-term guarantee
- doesn’t list a business number in the local telephone directory
Report a Problem
If you have a problem with a home improvement project, first try to resolve it with the contractor. Many disputes can be resolved at this level. Follow any phone conversations with a letter you send by certified mail. Request a return receipt. That’s your proof that the company received your letter. Keep a copy for your files.
If that fails, consider getting outside help like:
- your state attorney general or local consumer protection office
- your local Better Business Bureau
- your local media’s call for action lines
- dispute resolution programs
Call me today to discuss your Renovation Loan Options at 916-235-3989 – I have been helping clients with mortgage loan needs since 1999 and I specialize in FHA 203K Renovation Loans in California! (Read More about Sheri here)