10 Tips for Hiring Competent Contractors 2

10 Tips for How to Hire a Contractor

By Joseph Truini

Finding honest, capable remodeling contractors is no easy feat. It seems the construction industry attracts its fair share of shady characters and incompetent boobs, which is too bad because for every scam artist and knucklehead with a toolbox, there are thousands of reliable, trustworthy contractors. To protect yourself—and your money—here are 10 tips to ensure your next remodeling project goes smoothly.

1. One of the most reliable means of finding competent contractors is through personal references. Ask neighbors, friends, architects, colleagues, and real estate agents if they know of any good contractors, including masons, framers, trim carpenters, electricians, plumbers, drywall finishers, painters and heating and air conditioning installers.

2. Before contacting possible candidates, call the Better Business Bureau and check for complaints. Don’t worry about one or two grievances filed in the past several years, but steer clear of any contractor with a long history of complaints.

3. Call contractors on your preliminary list and ask about their availability and if they’re licensed and insured. Request a copy of their contractor’s license and workers’ compensation insurance policy

4. Narrow the list down to three or four contractors, then put the work out for competitive bids. Meet with the contractors and ask each to bring photos of completed jobs that are similar to yours.

5. Ask for references, then call former customers and ask the following questions:

Describe the project you worked on with this contractor?

What was the original construction budget?

What was the final construction budget?

How would you describe the quality of the work?

Was the jobsite kept clean and organized?

Was the project completed on time?

Were any liens filed on your property?

Would you work with this contractor again?

6.  Once you have chosen a contractor, obtain a written contract that includes the items specified in the original bid, plus the final price, payment terms, sales tax, permit fees, the specific work to be performed, materials to be used, warranties, start and end date, change-order processes, final review and sign-off procedures, and debris removal.

7. Once the work begins, make frequent inspections of the jobsite, and consult your local building department to make sure the contractor has pulled all necessary permits.

8. It’s not unusual for changes to occur during the remodeling process. Perhaps you’ll decide to install an additional window or the contractor will discover some structural problem that must be rectified. Regardless of the nature of the change, if it’s not specified in the original contract, you’ll need to execute a change order. It’s important to put all change orders in writing; avoid verbal contracts.

9.  Request signed lien releases from all major subcontractors and suppliers before making final payments. How important is a signed lien release? Consider this true story:

A Memphis, Tennessee, homeowner had contracted to have some home-improvement work done. The job went smoothly and at the end of the project, he paid the general contractor all the money owed. But unbeknownst to the homeowner, the contractor hadn’t paid his supplier, who slapped a lien on the homeowner. The homeowner ultimately had to pay an additional $20,000, even though he had paid the contractor in full.

10.  Pay the contractor as each significant phase of work is completed. Be careful about paying for work that hasn’t been finished. However, it’s not unusual to pay a small portion up front in order for the contractor to purchase materials. And before making the final payment, do a visual inspection of the entire project and make a punch list of any repairs or uncompleted work.


Scam Alert: 10 Red Flags

To avoid being a victim of a home-improvement scam, be wary of contractors who:

  • Provide credentials or references that can’t be verified.
  • Offer a special price, but only if you sign a contract today.
  • Accept only cash, require large deposits or want the entire cost up front.
  • Ask you to write a check in their name (not to the business).
  • Don’t provide a written contract or complete bid.
  • Refuse to apply for building permits, and ask you to get them.
  • Offer exceptionally long warranties.
  • Propose to do most or all of the work on weekends and after-hours.
  • Give you a low-ball offer that sounds too good to be true.
  • Has “Will work for beer” sign painted on his truck.

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