Whether you’re planning an addition for a growing family or simply getting new storm windows, finding a competent and reliable contractor is the first step to a successful and satisfying home improvement project.
Your home may be your most valuable financial asset. That’s why it’s important to be cautious when you hire someone to work on it. Home improvement and repair and maintenance contractors often advertise in newspapers, the Yellow Pages, and on the radio and TV. However, don’t consider an ad an indication of the quality of a contractor’s work. Your best bet is a reality check from those in the know: friends, neighbors, or co-workers who have had improvement work done. Get written estimates from several firms. Ask for explanations for price variations. Don’t automatically choose the lowest bidder.
Don’t Get Nailed
Not all contractors operate within the law. Here are some tip-offs to potential rip-offs. A less than reputable contractor:
- · offers you discounts for finding other customers;
- · just happens to have materials left over from a previous job;
- · only accepts cash payments;
- · asks you to get the required building permits;
- · does not list a business number in the local telephone directory;
- · tells you your job will be a “demonstration;”
- · pressures you for an immediate decision;
- · offers exceptionally long guarantees;
- · asks you to pay for the entire job up-front;
- · suggests that you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows. If you’re not careful, you could lose your home through a home improvement loan scam.
Questions to ask
Interview each contractor you’re considering. Here are some questions to ask.
- · How long have you been in business? Look for a well-established company and check it out with consumer protection officials.
- · How many projects like mine have you completed in the last year? Ask for a list. This will help you determine 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. Be suspicious if the contractor asks you to get the permit(s). It could mean that the contractor is not licensed or registered, as required by your state or locality.
- · What types of insurance do you carry? Contractors should have personal liability, worker’s compensation, and property damage coverage. Ask for copies of insurance certificates, and make sure they’re current. Avoid doing business with contractors who don’t carry the appropriate insurance. Otherwise, you’ll be held liable for any injuries and damages that occur during the project.
Getting a Written Contract
Contract requirements vary by state. Even if your state does not require a written agreement, ask for one. A contract spells out the who, what, where, when and cost of your project. The agreement should be clear, concise and complete. Before you sign a contract, make sure it contains:
- · The contractor’s name, address, phone, and license number, if required.
- · The contractor’s obligation to obtain all necessary permits.
- · How change orders will be handled. A change order — common on most remodeling jobs — is a written authorization to the contractor to make a change or addition to the work described in the original contract. It could affect the project’s cost and schedule. Remodelers often require payment for change orders before work begins.
- · A detailed list of all materials including color, model, size, brand name, and product.
- · Warranties covering materials and workmanship. The names and addresses of the parties honoring the warranties — contractor and manufacturer — must be identified. The length of the warranty period and any limitations also should be spelled out.
- · What the contractor will and will not do. For example, is site clean-up and trash hauling included in the price? Ask for a “broom clause.” It makes the contractor responsible for all clean-up work, including spills and stains.
- · Oral promises also should be added to the written contract.
- · A written statement of your right to cancel the contract within three business days if you signed it in your home or at a location other than the seller’s permanent place of business. During the sales transaction, the salesperson (contractor) must give you two copies of a cancellation form (one to keep and one to send back to the company) and a copy of your contract or receipt. The contract or receipt must be dated, show the name and address of the seller, and explain your right to cancel.
Completing the Job: A Checklist
Before you sign off, use this checklist to make sure the job is complete. Check that:
- · All work meets the standards spelled out in the contract.
- · You have written warranties for materials and workmanship.
- · You have inspected and approved the completed work.