What You Need To Know About Hiring Contractors
Hiring a contractor is a daunting task, which inevitably comes at a busy, stressful time. Whether you have decided to make exciting home improvements, or are repairing damage to your home, you are probably in a hurry to get started. Despite your impatience, don't rush this important decision. Take your time and find out everything you need to know before hiring a contractor.
For any home repair, or remodel project imaginable there are a staggering number of individuals and companies eager to take your money in exchange for big promises. If you rush into a contract without all of the facts, you could end up with no more than big promises. To select the best contractor for the job, you have to filter out the rest. Like any screening process, you start with the basics; eliminate those who don't fit your criteria, one step at a time.
Choose your state to check a contractor's license:
Finding A Qualified Contractor
Start with a state contractor's license verification check. Professions commonly requiring a specialized contractor's license include:
- Asbestos removal
- HVAC technicians
- Landscape architecture
- Major appliance installation
- Siding installation
- Structural remolding
- Swimming pool installation
This list is not all-inclusive. Requirements vary from state to state. Additionally, many cities require special permits or licenses for various service providers. If you hear "We don't need a license because…" - verify this with state and local regulating agencies. Don't waste your talking to an unlicensed contractor, and NEVER hire one.
Having a license is far from a grantee of good work. However, NOT having a license is virtually a guarantee of poor quality work - or no work at all. There are several reasons contractors choose to operate without a license, and none of them bode well for you. An unlicensed contractor is likely avoiding state regulations, examinations, or inspections because:
- They lack the knowledge and skills to pass an exam
- The materials used do not meet building code
- Workmanship is poor quality
- A license cannot be obtained due to previous legal violations
- The operation is entirely fraudulent
Once you have filtered out the unlicensed contractors, move on to the uninsured. Most states require contactors using hired help to carry some kind of worker's protection insurance. An individual with no employees may not be required to carry insurance. Regardless of the law in your state, you don't want anyone uninsured performing potentially hazardous work on your property. In case of an accident, you could be legally liable.
Now it's time to begin refining your search by looking at additional qualifications and recommendations. Check the contractors standing with the local Better Business bureau. Find out if they belong to any trade associations or community organizations. Ask about any awards or voluntary certifications, which the individual or company may hold. Check online review sites and ask friends and family about personal experiences. Finally, ask the contractor for references you may contact.
Avoiding Scams And Con Artists
If you ask enough questions about legalities, qualifications, credentials, and history a good percentage of the con artists will opt for an easier victim. However, some polished "professionals" can produce falsified documentation, and golden-tonged lies at the drop of a hat. Never take a contractor's word as fact. Verify documentation, and follow up on referrals.
Find out - and verify - how long the company has been in business. A new startup may be a cover for a scam. They may also be a legitimate fledgling construction company, but you are taking a gamble if you choose a contractor without an established history.
Most importantly, don't let yourself be coerced or pressured into signing anything before you've done your research and verified facts. If a contractor tries to rush you, consider it a red flag. Scare tactics are commonly used, claiming your home is in dire need of their particular service. If this is true, other professionals will agree, and you can get the problem repaired, but don't do anything without a least three qualified opinions. If you are asked to provide financial information, or any payment, before the deal is finalized in writing - something is wrong. Never give advance payment, for any reason.
Getting The Best Deal
If you've done your research, the list of possibilities should be narrowed down to established, well qualified, state licensed contractors with a great customer service rating. If you are not sure that all of the names on your "short list" fit this qualifications, do a little more research. It would be a waste of your time negotiating with a contractor you wouldn't want to hire anyway. When your list is reduced to qualified candidates, ask a few questions before you start collecting bids.
- Is the workmanship warrantied?
- Have they done projects similar to yours?
- How long do they expect to take?
- Will they clean up after the project, and dispose of any construction debris?
- How soon are they available to start?
- Can they work around your schedule?
Choose between 3 and 5 contractors who sound like the best candidates for your project, and get detailed bids from each. Make sure the bids include the breakdown of prices for materials, labor, fees, and any other expenses. The type of work, and materials to be used should be specifically stated. Don't accept a verbal quote. It gives you no proof of what was promised, and it makes comparison between contractors virtually impossible.
When you compare bids, don't just look for the lowest price. Look for the best value. Read all of the details of price comparisons to see why one contractor is less expensive than another. Sometimes the difference lies in time-saving tools and equipment, bulk discounts, efficient methods, or the contactor's profit margin. However, sometimes you get what you pay for.
When you have chosen the perfect state licensed contractor, get everything in writing before you provide any payment or give allow them to begin work. The contact should spell out everything you were promised, in explicit detail. Keep, not only your contract, but your bid and any other written communication (including electronic) between you and the contractor. If any terms change, get it in writing. Even after the work is completed, keep any communications relating to the warranty until it has expired. Your home is your castle - it's worth the extra steps to ensure you get a top-quality, state licensed contractor.
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