5 Tips for Hiring a Contractor

Add increased confidence in the economy to the beginning of summer, and you have a lot of people thinking about home improvement projects. If you’re not a carpenter or weren’t lucky enough to score a Handyman-in-Law, you’re probably going to hire this project out.

Contractors can be a great way to get a job done right, on budget, and keep your weekends free. Still, everyone’s heard horror stories about the door that won’t close, the add-on that’s falling into the backyard, and the deck that took six months to finish.

To avoid these headaches (and potentially many, many more) keep these 5 tips in mind when hiring a contractor.

1. Ask people you trust for recommendations.

Friends, neighbors, your dog groomer- whoever. See who they’ve used and what they liked about their work. Ask specific questions about cost, quality of work, meeting deadlines. The more thoroughly you vet a contractor, the less surprises you’ll have to deal with.

2. Give your prospects a call.

Talk to them about the project and get a sense for their familiarity with the work and what ideas they can bring to the project. Ask to see a current work site so you can get an idea of their work style, and how respectfully they treat their clients’ properties while working. Nothing is worse than coming home to paint dripped on the carpet, sawdust in your pool, and muddy tracks through your kitchen.

3. Once you’ve narrowed your list, get bids.

There are different ways a contractor will bid a project, and that can be as important as how much the bid is for. Sometimes bids will include a cap on how much a project will cost, usually costing more upfront but including an incentive for the contractor to stay on budget and and protection for you from costly complications. This can be especially important for major projects. Ask for all bids to be broken down by category: materials, labor, profit margin, travel, and other expenses. This will help you compare more effectively.

4. Negotiate a payment schedule.

How a contractor wants to structure the payment can tell you a lot: if they want a majority up front, they’re either struggling financially or don’t trust you. Try to save at least ten percent of the total payment for after the project is completed, so that there’s incentive to finish.

5. Make your pick and get everything in writing.

Don’t let price make the decision for you. Paying more to get someone you’re comfortable with is always worth it in the long run. And putting everything on paper- from insurance to materials to plans to payments- gets everyone on the same page, and helps avoid disputes mid-renovation.

Photo courtesy williamhartz