How To Hire A Contractor

Economic conditions have caused many homeowners to tackle maintenance and repair jobs on their own when they might once have called in a professional. But, however strong your home improvement skills, there are still times you might need a quality contractor to perform work that is beyond your expertise. How do you go about hiring the right contractor for the job? Here are some simple tips that will help you find the right professional—or even a capable semi-pro!

Ask a Friend

Hiring a relative, friend or neighbor might prove to be a win-win situation: You will receive the satisfaction of providing someone with temporary work, and they might feel happy to help. Moreover, this will likely prove less expensive than hiring a contractor for the job.

Be forewarned, however, that while this might sound like a fantastic idea, hiring a friend could cost you much more than you expect, both in time and money. Your personal connection might just put you at the bottom of the to-do list—you’d never fire a friend, right? For the same reason, the job might take much longer and cost more than expected. Also consider that if things go sour with a hired contractor, you never have to see him again. A friend or family member’s shoddy work—and the aftermath—could make for awkward get-togethers and unpleasant holidays. The question you have to ask yourself is: “If this does not go well, how might it affect our relationship?”

Also consider liability issues. What happens if your friend is injured while working on your project? Who pays the medical bills? What happens if something is damaged—is it your friend’s responsibility or yours? Hiring a friend or relative puts you at financial risk. Only you can decide if the risk is worth taking.

Hiring a Pro: Ask Around

If you think your best bet is to hire a contractor, it is good to ask for a referral from a friend, neighbor or relative. Most contractors (especially the good ones!) get their work from referrals, so this is an excellent way to start. No matter how glowing the review, however, a referral alone cannot be the basis for your decision. The best referral is from a person who hired a contractor to perform a job similar to your project. Find out details about the contractor and the work performed. Was the job completed as promised, on time and on budget? Get multiple referrals, if possible.

Query Your Contractor

When interviewing contractors, it is important to ask the right questions. An essential one is: “How long have you been in business?” Finding a contractor with job experience is important. The top contractors are usually focused in one area of expertise and thus provide higher quality work. Upstart companies offer cheaper prices, but lack experience in both their crafts and in business practices. Hiring a good contractor to complete a job started by an inept contractor is expensive and stretches out the time frame.

Contractor-furnished references are another excellent way to learn about who you’re thinking of hiring. Always ask a prospective contractor for references; a reputable contractor will be able to provide you with several. Follow up with these customers and find out about their experiences. Some contractors might give a low estimate to get your business, only to dramatically increase the price later with change orders that you assumed were included in the original bid. If possible, visit both completed and current job sites. Observe whether the workers are neat, professional and organized, then ask yourself if you would be comfortable with this crew working in your home. Occasionally, you might discover that, while the estimator appeared very professional, the workers on site do not!

Lastly, you should ask your contractor if he and his employees will perform all aspects of the job themselves. Some “contractors” are actually independent salespeople or companies who simply hire an actual working contractor to perform the job. Not only is this usually much more expensive, but it also raises issues of accountability and liability.

Research All Contractors

After references have been checked and job sites visited, the next step is to check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBB is a useful tool because it keeps track of customer complaints against all types of businesses and rates companies with grades from A to F. Also, choosing a BBB-accredited business provides a level of assurance because, should a problem arise, the contractor, by virtue of this accreditation, must be willing to submit to arbitration in order to have the situation resolved.

There are other safeguards to take. Before signing a contract, the homeowner should ask for copies of the contractor’s liability and worker’s compensation certificates of insurance. You might be surprised to know that the homeowner assumes the risk and liability for a contractor without proper coverage. In other words, the homeowner is responsible for any property damage, injuries or accidental deaths that occur while the job is in progress. As noted earlier, be aware that some contractors use subcontractors. It is necessary to make sure that any subcontractors carry their own insurance policies, as they are not covered under the general contractor’s policy.

There are also companies (most notably, Angie’s List) whose sole purpose is to review and rate contractors. As with the BBB, contractors are given ratings from A to F. Reviews are often posted on these organizations’ websites and users pay for the service. Hiring a contractor based on one review does not offer a complete picture, so look for companies with multiple reviews.

Having a written contract is, of course, very important, as is having any warranties in writing. Ideally, the contract will include a completion date, the products to be used and the specifics of the job.

It is worthwhile to take the time to collect information about prospective contractors. It will save time, money and aggravation in the long run. References, proof of insurance, BBB ratings, and other contractor rating services are instrumental in choosing the right contractor. The key to a quality result is hiring the right professional for the job!

Don Milewski is an Operations Manager at Lakewood-based Neubert Painting

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Volume 6, Issue 19, Posted 8:25 AM, 09.22.2010