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If you’re planning a home renovation, the days ahead until the project is over can be stressful and expensive. Unless you have chosen a design-build solution for your remodeling project, a reliable general contractor will be your closest ally during this period of time. But how do you find the right contractor for the job? Use these pro tips for choosing the right contractor as a checklist to guide you along the way.
1. Start with referrals
A great place to start looking for remodeling contractors is by asking for referrals from friends and family in the neighborhood. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry can also help you out with a list of contractors in your area.
Other places you could ask around for referrals include your local hardware store and the lumber yard. These businesses will know who the contractors with good track records are and who the contractors that pay their dues on time are.
If you live in an apartment, your building supervisor ought to be able to point out a couple of good contractors to you.
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2. Conduct phone interviews
Once you’ve compiled a list of local contractors, the next thing for you to do is to interview them telephonically. There are a few questions you ought to ask each of them to help you shortlist the right person for the job.
Start by describing your project and asking them if they have experience handling home improvements on the same scale as yours.
If they do have experience with similar projects, ask them to give you the contact details of a few of their previous clients so you can check references with them.
You need to make sure you hire only licensed contractors for your project. So ask if the prospects you speak with have a valid contractor license, are bonded and insured. You also want to ensure they have enough experience with procuring licenses and permits required for the project.
The next question you ought to ask is for financial references from their suppliers and banks. This is for you to make sure they’re financially stable and not looking at making a quick buck.
Find out how many projects they have going on simultaneously. A good contractor ought to have at least a couple of active projects.
Ask them how long they’ve worked with their subcontractors. All general contractors use subcontractors for specific tasks, like laying ceramic tiles for your kitchen remodel. You want to make sure you don’t have greenhorns working on your home remodeling project.
3. Meet in person
Your phone interviews ought to help you shortlist a few contractors that seem to be ideal fits for the job. The next step is for you to meet each of them in person.
The reason why it is important to meet in person before you hire a contractor is that you need to be able to build a rapport with him or her. This is a person who is going to be spending a considerable amount of time working in your home. Being able to communicate well with each other is of the utmost importance.
However, don’t be swept away by sweet talk. Make sure you check on the contractor’s credentials with the local Better Business Bureau just to be sure.
4. Do background checks
Your personal meetings will no doubt take you one step closer to hiring a contractor. But don’t sign on the dotted line just yet. Remember all those referrals you asked for during your telephonic interview? Go back and double-check on all of them.
It would also be prudent for you to go visit an active job site that your contractor is currently working on. You want to make sure the contractor you’re going to hire to work on your home is capable of handling the project and comes through as a reliable resource.
5. Call for bids
Your list of contractors will now be even smaller. Next up, call for bids from the shortlisted contractors. A professional contractor will ask you for a blueprint of your house and sit with you to understand the scope of the project before coming up with a quote for the project.
Your bids should have a break up of the cost of materials for the project, the cost of labor, extra expenses, and profit margins clearly defined.
If any of those bids seem to be too low or too good to be true, reject that bid immediately. Chances are that the contractor who made that bid is desperate for work and may resort to cutting corners to make the project work within the budget.
6. Decide on a payment schedule
By now, you ought to have only a couple of contractors contending for your home renovation project. The next step is for you to decide on a payment schedule with them well ahead of the project’s start date. This will be a good indicator of the caliber of the contractor.
Ideally, a contractor will ask for 10% of the total cost of the project upfront while signing the contract. There will then be three payments of 25% spaced out during the duration of the project, followed by the final payment of 15% when you, the homeowner, are convinced that the project has been completed to your satisfaction.
If a contractor asks for a large percentage of the project costs upfront, it may be a sign that the contractor’s financial health isn’t in the pink, or that they may be unsure of the quality of their work. This ought to make you reconsider your stand with them immediately.
7. Get it all in writing
Make sure you draw up a detailed contract to seal the deal between you and the shortlisted contractor. The contract ought to have the scope of work, payment schedule, worker compensation, proof of liability insurance, raw materials used and lien releases from all the suppliers and subcontractors clearing you of any liability should the contractor default on his payments to them. A well-written contract can go a long way in dispute resolution.
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