Remodeling University: How to Hire a Contractor

The First and Most Important Step for a Successful Home Remodeling Project:
How to Hire a Contractor

One of the hardest parts of a home remodeling project is selecting a contractor. Your contractor is the one who you need to trust to successfully complete your home remodeling project. Your home is probably your most important asset. Make selecting a contractor as painless as possible by taking your time, following your instincts and doing your homework. Start your project off right by following the tips below for selecting a reliable and professional contractor.

Types of Contractors & Home Improvement Professionals:
The type of contractor you need to hire depends upon the size and nature of your project. Understanding the different types of contractors will help you narrow down your search.

General Contractor – General contractors handle most home remodeling projects from start to finish. They typically hire subcontractors and work in conjunction with architects and designers to get the job done. Think of a general contractor as the project manager of your project. [Editor: the distinction made here about General Contractors working mostly though subs and Design-Build Contractors (see below) working with in-house crews is inaccurate in our opinion. The main difference would be that the Design-Build firm incorporates the design phase in its services, often offering it ‘in-house’ as is accurately noted below].

Architects – Architects design larger projects, such as room additions and home remodeling projects that require structural changes.

Interior Designers – Interior designers can work alone or with an architect to plan and design the finishing touches for your project.

Design/Build Contractors – Design/build contractors provide the same services as a general contractor but typically do not sub-contract the work [Editor: please see our editorial comment above].
They have architects and designers on staff. Homeowners do not need to hire any additional contractors or designers.

If you don’t know where to start looking for a contractor, the best place to start is by asking your friends, family and co-workers who you trust. If your friends and family were happy with a contractor, then chances are you will be, too. It’s best to consider recommendations from friends and family who have had similar projects completed. If you are planning a kitchen remodel and addition, don’t necessarily take a recommendation from a friend who had garage and deck work. Include questions about whether the job was completed on time and whether the contractor was accessible to answer their questions and address any issues. Keep in mind that each person has his own idea of quality. Inspect the work completed at your friend’s house so that you can determine if it is the quality that you want.

Contact the Contractor
Call or E-mail the contractor you are interested in and ask a series of initial questions to find out how long have he been in business; how many similar projects he has completed; what type of suppliers he uses, and whether he will work with the materials of your choice?

Get references and ask if you can view any of the completed projects. This may be more difficult with an indoor project. However, if a homeowner had a wonderful experience and is pleased with the results, he’ll probably be happy to show you the completed project. You can also request to visit jobs in progress. This step will give you a lot of insight into how the contractor works and interacts with his clients.

License and Insurance
Walk the other way if you come across an unlicensed contractor. Unlicensed contractors are a red flag. Any contractor who claims to be professional would not be without a license. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “most states license electrical and plumbing contractors, only 36 states have some type of licensing and registration statutes affecting contractors, remodelers. The licensing can range from simple registration to a detailed qualification process.” Check with your local licensing authorities to see what a contractor in your area is required to have.

Liability insurance is equally important. In most states, a license will not be granted without liability insurance [Editor: In California, there is no requirement for a contractor to have a liability insurance. A license will not be granted without a bond, but that is very different from liability coverage] . If the contractor uses sub-contractors, you must check that the sub-contractor has liability insurance or is covered under the policy of the contractor. This is extremely important because if a sub-contractor gets injured while working at your home and he is not covered by any liability insurance, he is legally allowed to sue you for the damages. [Editor: injuries to workers and subs are not covered by a liability policy, unless the general contractor was negligent. Always ask for and verify that every worker on your job site is covered with a workers’ compensation insurance. This is a mandated coverage in most states, but it is too often absent, leaving homeowners with a significant liability in case there is an injury]

A simple Internet search will reveal if there are any unresolved complaints against a contractor. Additionally, check with your local Better Business Bureau (BBB). [Editor: In California, check with the CSLB]

Check Out Remodeling Magazines
Several remodeling magazines, such as “Remodeling,” publish an annual list of the biggest home improvement companies in the country. While biggest isn’t always best, consulting with these companies will lead you to recommendations for quality contractors in your area. Additionally, remodeling magazines can help you think of design ideas for your project and to learn about new products.

Resist the Urge
The lowest proposal is definitely not the best proposal. For many homeowners, that urge to select the lowest bid is strong. Resist the urge to go with the lowest proposal. Instead, use your instinct, be smart and your homework will lead you to the best contractor for your project.

The Contract
Learn all you need to know about contracts here.

Written by Marcy Tate
Marcy is a home improvement blogger at the Networx blog..

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