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How to choose your contractor

by Thomas Kral

Let's face it. you can't always do it yourself. Some times you will need to hire a professional home improvement contractor. They are not all the same and the following paragraphs will help you choose the right one!

The first thing is choosing who to come out to your house and provide you with estimates. You can find contractors many ways. I suggest asking friends if they have had any similar work and who they used. I also suggest asking the Better Business Bureau for someone local. There are referral services, especially on the internet, that pre-screen their contractors. There is always the Phone book, if the first suggestions don't pan out.

Your goal is to at least have three estimates to choose from when making your decision. Talking to more than one contractor is going to give you better rounded advice and insight into what is really needed to get the project done right. What one contractor might have missed, another is going to point out and vice versa.

When contacting a contractor for an estimate you will need to qualify them. Ask if they provide the service you need.  Ask if they have a license (ours is #32717), if required in your area. If they answer No to ANY of these requirements, thank them for their time and move on.

When speaking with contractors, either in person or over the phone, you should take notes. Use a separate sheet of paper for each contractor's notes so you don't become confused who said what. If you don't understand something, swallow your pride and ask for clarification on the topic. Tell the contractor your goals for the project and ask his advice of the best way to achieve those goals.

Find out from the contractor that is giving you the bid, how busy they are and when your job could be completed. Or if you donít know if you want to have the work completed yet, ask how long it would take from start to finish for your job to be completed. Great contractors tend to be busy and they will tell you how far behind their work schedule is. Sometimes a job canít be started for three months, other times, if you have inside work, they can fit your job in when it is raining outside. These are all things that you should be aware of when working with any type of contractor.

Ask for an estimate from the contractor. Always demand this estimate in writing. Ask the contractor to include any statements he may have verbally made such as, "this will last ten years" or "we apply two coats". Your written estimate should be detailed. If you have a question, ask. If you want a revision then ask for one. This estimate will become a binding contract once you sign it. Leave nothing to interpretation.

Now that you have decided upon a price for your job, the contractor for the job and you understand when your job is going to start and end, you should consider getting a contract from the contractor. If your contractor is afraid or reluctant to offer you a contract, with a warrant of some type on the work that is going to be done, maybe you need to re think your choice of contractors. Every contractor should back their work even if it is just for six months. For example, if they are going to put in a new ceiling in your living room and the ceiling starts falling down after just two months, the contractor should come and repair it. After the six months, the contractor is no longer responsible. Donít allow your work to start, and donít give any type of deposit for work unless a contract has been signed. While most often you are not going to run into a problem, that one time that you donít have a contract that states who is responsible for what and when the work is to be completed and how it is going to be completed, that is the one time you could have a problem.

It is important to not allow the contractor to sell you on the spot. You need time to compare his estimate to your other estimates and do some research. Always obtain at least three estimates. I suggest more than three if you have the time. When comparing the estimates look at more than price. Price is the last thing you should be concerned with because it's not what you pay it's what you get. Contractor ABC may be trying to sell you a poor quality job for a high cost, while Contractor XYZ may be trying to sell you a high quality job at a moderate cost. You have to compare "scopes of work". This is why you need a detailed estimate. You can not make a decision until all contractors are bidding for the same scope of work.

Always ask for proof of licenses. If the contractor has them he should have no problem providing them to you. This is not an option, always insist on written documentation. Always ask to see similar work. Don' t settle for pictures, demand addresses. Ask to speak to past customers.

Investigate, Investigate, Investigate. Because home owners make un-educated decisions based on lowest bidder and are upset when they find out why the bid they choose was the lowest.  Call the state licensing board. Make sure the license wasn't revoked or forged. Drive by these addresses and take a look, if it's exterior work. Check with the Better Business Bureau, Attorney General, Chamber of Commerce or any affiliations local contractors may have and ask if the contractors have any complaints.

Now you know you are dealing with reputable contractors. Now you know all contractors are bidding to do the same work. Who do you choose? Do you think it is safe to go with the lowest price? Maybe; But who has the better warranty? Who has more experience with this type of work? Who took the time to really make sure you understood the process? Who do you feel more comfortable speaking with? Do you have a hard time contacting any of these contractors? If you have a hard time in the sales process, image the response (or lack of response) you will get if you make a warranty claim!

How far apart are these proposals in price? If they are all essentially the same scope of work by legitimate contractors then they should all pretty much be in the same ball park money figure. If not, you have to ask yourself why.

After you have qualified all of your potential contractors, you know they are all worthy of your business, the contractor that earns your business is the one you trust the most. TRUST.


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