Congratulations! You’ve decided to make some improvements to your home. You have a lot of work ahead of you… and that’s before the renovations even begin! To take your vision to reality, you have to settle on a design, set a budget, select products and, perhaps most importantly, find a pro to make it all happen. We can help.
The Federal Trade Commission encourages homeowners to do their research to make sure the professional they hire is reputable. “Finding a good contractor is important,” states the FTC’s Consumer Information webpage. “A home improvement project gone wrong can cost you.”
Identify Your Needs
Different jobs require different skills. A professional who specializes in finishing work might not be your best option for gutting and overhauling the kitchen. Determine what type of work needs to be done, and refer to this little “cheat sheet” as you begin your search for a pro:
General Contractor. Manages all aspects of a project. Hires and supervises subcontractors. Obtains building permits. Schedules inspections. Consider this your one-stop-shop for whatever job you’re tackling.
Specialty Contractor. Installs specific products or has expertise in particular areas of home renovation. It doesn’t make sense to hire a cabinet installer to put a new tile floor in your bathroom.
Architect. Designs homes and home additions as well as major renovations, especially those involving structural changes.
Designer. Helps you and your builder/contractor achieve the style you envision for your space.
Research Your Options
“A good ad isn’t proof that a contractor does quality work,” say the FTC experts. Be willing to put in some time to find the right professional for your specific job.
Word of mouth. Get referrals from friends, neighbors, coworkers, and others who’ve used contractors to successfully achieve their home improvements. Ask if you can take a look at the work that’s been done, and ask them about their experience with the pro they hired.
Dig a little deeper. Once you’ve narrowed down your options, look even more closely at their qualifications. How long have they been in business? Are they licensed? “Many states require contractors to be licensed and/or bonded,” according to the FTC. “Check with your local building department or consumer protection agency to find out about licensing requirements in your area.”
Get estimates. Ask each of your “finalists” to submit an estimate in writing. Don’t automatically choose the lowest bidder. Instead, ask each of the contractors why his or her estimate is higher or lower than others you’ve received.
Interview Your Selected Pro
The FTC suggests asking additional questions before entering into a contract with your professional of choice:
How many projects like mine have you completed in the last year? It may be difficult to gauge what sort of new kitchen you’ll get from a contractor whose track records comes from building decks or installing windows.
Will my project require a building permit? Most states and localities require permits for building projects, says the FTC. “A competent contractor will get all the necessary permits before starting work on your project.”
May I have a list of references? Ask for the names, addresses, and phone numbers of at least three clients for whom the contractor has completed similar work. Reach out to each reference to find out when the project was done, whether or not it was completed on time, whether or not the job was satisfactory, etc. The contractor may even provide the location of current jobs in progress.
Are you insured? “Contractors should have personal liability, worker’s compensation, and property damage coverage,” says the FTC. “Ask for copies of insurance certificates and make sure they’re current, or you could be held liable for any injuries and damages that occur during the project.”
Will you use subcontractors on my project? Look for the subcontractors’ reviews online and make sure they, too, have current insurance coverage (and licenses, if required).
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