Ready to Remodel? How to Hire a Contractor You Can Trust

Contractors come in all shapes, sizes and skill levels. Follow these steps to separate the pros from the bad eggs.

With the economy stabilized and home prices rising in much of the U.S., homeowners who have been content to watch 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 12 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. Home Advisor provides this handy site to look up your state’s licensing requirements and check out individual contractors. The licensing agency in each state is also the first place to look to find out if a contractor has been the subject of complaints or government disciplinary actions.

3. 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.

4. Verify insurance coverage

Contractors need two types of insurance:

  • Liability coverage: Compensates the homeowner in case the work fails.
  • Workers’ compensation insurance: Covers workers injured at the job site.

Regardless of what a copy of a policy shown to you says, you should 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 you could be liable for the unpaid premiums in case of an accident if the contractor’s industrial insurance is not paid up.

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.

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