Whether you're interested in home renovations or have a repair situation on your hands, there are times when it definitely pays to call in a professional. But you don't want to hire just anyone. How do you tell the good, honest contractors from those who aren't worthy of your business?
Vetting a contractor to work in your home ultimately boils down to asking the right questions. Here are a few to cover before signing a contract.
1. Are you licensed?
Anyone can call him or herself a contractor and show up for an estimate. But a contractor with a license may be far more qualified to do the work at hand than a contractor without one. Also, licensed contractors must meet certain local or statewide requirements that offer you more protection as a homeowner. When you're spending a lot of money, that's good peace of mind to have.
2. How many projects like this have you tackled?
You may find a contractor with 10 years of experience renovating homes, but if that person has never built a deck before, and that's the job you're looking at, you're probably better off going with someone who's been in business for three years but has a portfolio of dozens of decks to show you.
3. Do you have insurance in case my home is damaged in the course of the job?
Licensed contractors generally have their own insurance, and that's a good thing, because you never know what damage might ensue in the course of a renovation or repair. Aim to hire a contractor who carries insurance so you're not stuck with a potentially large expense if something goes wrong.
4. What exactly does your estimate include?
When you're paying good money to have work done on your home, you don't want hidden surprises that cost you even more. Before you sign a contract, make sure you understand exactly what you're getting for the price being quoted. Going back to our deck example, say you're told a contractor can do the job for $15,000. Does that include staining or sealing the deck, or will that work and expense be on you? Get the details -- in writing -- before making your decision.
5. To what extent do you stand behind your work?
When you buy a new refrigerator or dishwasher, it comes with a warranty that protects you from having to pay for repairs for a certain period of time. Well, there's no reason to expect anything less from a contractor. Find out what sort of warranty on workmanship you'll get, and how long it's good for. To this end, here's where years in the industry might come into play. A contractor who's only been at it for a year may very well disappear a few months after your job, rendering any warranty you get potentially useless. On the other hand, if you go with a contractor who's been in business for 10 years, chances are, he or she is here to stay.
6. When can you start the job?
You may find a contractor with a competitive price and a great reputation. But if you're calling that person in for a home repair and he or she is six weeks out from being able to start the project, that may not work for you. Find out what sort of time frame you're looking at.
7. Do you do all of the work yourself, or do you have a team or subcontractors?
If you're signing up for a renovation or repair that could take several days, or weeks, to complete, you deserve to know who will be coming in and out of your home during that time. Ask for details on how the work will get done.
8. Can you provide a list of references I can contact?
It's easy enough for a contractor to create a website and populate its reviews section with self-crafted endorsements. Before you hire anyone, ask for a list of previous customers you can actually contact, and make sure that list is extensive. Chances are, if you're given a list with 30 names, they're not all close friends of that contractor who will talk him or her up as a favor.
Asking the above questions will help you narrow down your choices when hiring a contractor. But also, be sure to solicit contractor recommendations from friends, neighbors, and family members. If they were satisfied with their choices, chances are, you'll have a similarly positive experience yourself.