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Tips on Hiring a Contractor

How to hire a contractor.

Do not want to Do it yourself? Whether you are planning a one-room or whole-house redo, This Old House general contractor, “Tom Silva” shares his tips for finding the best pro for the job.

  • Get recommendations – Start with friends and family, then contact the National Association of the Remodeling Industry for a list of members in your area. You can also ask a building inspector, who will know which contractors routinely meet code requirements. You can even get recommendations’ from the owner or manager of a local lumberyard, who knows which contractors buy quality materials and pay their bills on time.
  • Do interviews – Contact each of your prospects and ask the following questions:
    • Do you take on projects of my size?
    • Will you provide financial references from suppliers or banks?
    • Can you provide a list of previous clients and their contact information?
    • How many other projects would you have going at the same time as mine?
    • How long have you worked with your subcontractors?

The answers to these questions will reveal the contractors availability, reliability, and how much attention he or she will give your project.

  • Meet face-to-face – pick three or four contractors to meet for further discussion. A contractor should put you at ease. It is crucial that you communicate well because he or she will be in your home for hours at a time. On the other hand, do not let personality fool you. Check with you states consumer protection agency and the local Better Business Bureau to make sure there is not history of disputes with clients or subcontractors.
  • Investigate the facts – Call former clients to learn how their project went and ask to see the finished results. Even more important, visit a current job site and see for yourself how the contractor works. Is the job site neat and safe? Are workers courteous and careful with the homeowner’s property?
  • Make plans, get bids – You have your short list of contractors whose track records seem clean and whose work ethic looks responsible. Now it is time to start looking forward to your project. A conscientious contractor will want not only a complete set of blueprints but also a sense of what homeowners want out of a project and what they plan to spend. To compare bids, ask everyone to break down the cost of materials, labor, profit margins, and other expenses. Generally materials account for 40 percent of the total cost; the rest covers overhead and the typical profit margin, which is 15 to 20 percent.
  • Set a payment schedule – This can speak to a contractor’s financial status and work ethic. If he wants half the bid up front, he may have financial problems or be worried that you will not pay the rest after you have seen the work. For large projects, a schedule usually starts with 10 percent at contract signing, three payments of 25 percent evenly spaced over the duration of the project, and a check for the final 15 percent when you feel every item on the punch list has been completed.
  • Do not let price alone be your guide – Throw out the lowball bid. This contractor is probably cutting corners or, worse, desperate for work – hardly an encouraging sign. Beyond technical competence, comfort should play a role in your decision, and this gets back to how well you both communicate. All things being equal, it is better to spend more and choose someone you get along with and are confident in.
  • Put it in writing – Draw up a contract that details every step of the project: payment schedule; proof of liability insurance and workers compensation payments; a start date and projected completion date; specific materials and products to be used; and a requirement that the contractor obtain lien releases (which protect you if he does not pay his bills) from all subcontractors and suppliers. Insisting on a clear contract is not about mistrust, it is about insuring a successful renovation.