With the economy stabilized and home prices rising in much of the U.S., homeowners who spent the recession watching home remodeling on TV may now be ready to do some real-life work on their homes.
That can mean wading into a world both alien and expensive. The contractor you hire will make all the difference to the success and affordability of your project.
Contractors come in all shapes, sizes and skill levels. Most are professionals who do their best. A few, though, can’t be trusted to cross the street in a straight line.
Follow these 13 steps to separate the pros from the bad eggs, avoid misunderstandings and expensive missteps, and get the most for your money:
1. Get recommendations
The best way to find a competent contractor is to ask friends, colleagues and family for the names of contractors with whom they’ve had a great experience. Send your network an email. Or just phone friends or otherwise ask people for recommendations.
Assemble a list of the most promising names you’ve received. Chat a bit more with those who made the recommendations to find out:
- Why they recommend the contractor.
- What kind of work they had done.
- Whether the contractor finished on time and on budget.
- Whether there were any problems.
2. Verify licenses
When you have narrowed your list to two or three contractors, ask to see their business licenses. Make photocopies and verify they are current by contacting the board or agency that licenses contractors in your state. For more help:
- Find your state’s licensing agency on your state government website listed at USA.gov.
- Visit the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies website, which lists licensing agencies for most states.
3. Track down complaints and disciplinary actions
When calling your state’s licensing agency, ask how to find complaints and government disciplinary actions against contractors.
“What You Should Know Before You Hire a Contractor,” a consumer publication of the Virginia Board for Contractors, has plenty of information for homeowners everywhere.
4. Screen for legal problems
Look for lawsuits involving a contractor:
- Check at your county’s district court office for lawsuits naming the contractor or business you are considering using.
- Search online for mentions of the contractor’s name and the business’s name.
5. Verify insurance coverage
Contractors need two types of insurance:
- Liability coverage, which compensates the homeowner in case the work fails.
- Workers’ compensation insurance, which covers workers injured at the job site.
Regardless what a copy of a policy shown to you says, call the agent or state agency to confirm that the contractor’s premiums are paid up and the policy is in force. Laws vary from state to state, but in some places if industrial insurance is not paid up, you could be liable for the unpaid premiums in case of an accident.
Ask each contractor you are considering for a copy of evidence of his or her liability insurance, including the phone number of the agent who sold the policy.