It’s finally time to tackle that big home improvement project you’ve always wanted to do. Or, you might have waited so long, now you need to do the project. Which leads to your first question – “Where do I start?”
Well, the truth is… some jobs are simply too big, too complicated, or require too much time to handle on your own. Whether it’s remodeling a kitchen, installing gutters, or electrical rewiring for your business – you’ll likely need an expert.
A contractor, or subcontractor, can be your ‘knight in shining armor’ when it comes to completing your project. But, wait… you’ve heard so many horror stories connected with “shady contractors” that you’re starting to re-think this re-model. But statistics show that the huge majority of contractors out there are honest, hard-working professionals. Most people are happy with any improvement project they undertake.
“Fine,” you say. “How can I protect myself and make sure I find a great contractor?” I’m glad you asked. Here are some standard tips you can follow to make sure your repair, remodel, or installation goes well:
- Got License? Most states require that a contractor have a license to operate in that state. Once you find a contractor, check to see if he or she has a local contracting license to do the job.
- Check References – get at least three references from satisfied clients. And if you want to get really fanatical, go to the contractor’s current job site. See if the site is messy. Are the workers taking care of the property?
- Get Bids – if you have the luxury, get multiple bids from several contractors. Don’t always assume that the lowest bid is the best, because that contractor may be desperate for work or might cut corners on the job. But if you get contractor’s from several sources, you could get a really great deal.
- Get it in Writing – the days of the “handshake deal” are far behind us. Get a detailed contract together and throw everything in (even if the project doesn’t involve the kitchen sink!) The more you clarify, the fewer headaches you’ll have if things go wrong.
- Do You Take a Check? Don’t ever pay in cash. Can you say, “Proof of payment”? I thought you could… Keep logs of all payments (for example – 10% down, 20% by one date, another 20% by another date, final payment when work is complete) and pay with check or credit card only.
“Wait a minute!” you protest, “That sounds like a lot of work!” Sure it does. Because it is a lot of work. If you think a renovation or remodeling job is expensive, imagine having to pay for it twice! Do your homework and you’ll avoid being a horror story.
“Are there any warning signs of a bad contractor?” you ask. Boy, you sure do ask a lot of questions. And that’s good. Always ask a lot of questions. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be to handle the unexpected.
Okay, these are signs a contractor might not be your best choice:
- If required by the state, your contractor doesn’t want to show you his or her license. Or won’t give you references. Or you two don’t get along. Keep in mind: this person may be in your home, working side-by-side with you, for several months – you’d better get along!
- Your contractor wants you to pay for the entire project… up front. Run for the hills.
- Your contractor has a “friend” in the financing business that can get you a “good deal” on a loan for your project. You’ll end up with a huge “2nd mortgage” at a ridiculously “high rate” and your “contractor” just got a juicy “commission” on the deal.
- Your contractor doesn’t have a business address, a business card, and it looks like the contractor sleeps in his or her pickup truck. Run really fast for those hills.
Okay. Now you know some of the warning signs. Here are some signs you may have found a really good contractor:
- The contractor has at least 4 to 5 years experience. It shows they can manage their business and complete their projects.
- The contractor has insurance. Liability and worker’s compensation are the most important types of coverage to make sure everyone is covered.
- The contractor has more than references – he or she may even carry a book of photos showing past work projects that have been completed.
- The contractor provides cost breakdowns for the job. These breakdowns show specific details of what the project will cost to complete.
- The contractor is flexible. Communicate all your requirements and specifications for the project. Whether you two decide that you want to supervise the work or you want to let the contractor make all the decisions, your contractor will be flexible enough to work with you.
“Okay, am I ready?” Yes, now you’re ready to hire a professional to help get your home or business improvement project off the ground. One of the best ways to protect yourself is the act of due diligence. Webster’s defines due diligence as: “The care that a prudent person might be expected to exercise in the examination and evaluation of risks affecting a business transaction.” In simplified terms – Do your homework. And you’ll do just fine.
Have fun and make the most out of your experience!