Are you ready to tackle a mini or major home makeover? Whether you’re thinking about remodeling your bathroom or installing a new roof, a home improvement project can be a daunting task.
But if you can find a reliable home contractor to lend a hand along the way, it doesn’t have to be.
So, how do you find the right home contractor for your project? If you’re not sure where to begin, don’t worry. George "Geep" Moore, 2012 Chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelers, shared some essential tips for selecting a reliable home contractor.
"First and foremost, never pass up on your gut feeling," Moore says. "If a contractor shows up looking like he just fell off a turnip truck, he might not be the guy you want. They should come off personally pleasing to you. If they don’t - find someone else."
Keep reading for five more great tips for finding the right home contractor.
Tip #1 - Choose a Licensed and Insured Contractor
"One of the most important things that you want to do is make sure your contractor is licensed and properly insured," Moore advises.
Why? Because their license ensures they’re qualified to do the work, and their insurance should cover any damage to your house, or if a worker gets injured on the job.
Some states (like Louisiana, where Moore lives) require contractors to have a license to do any kind of home improvement. To verify if your prospective contractor is licensed, start by contacting your state license board.
But keep in mind that just because a contractor is licensed, doesn’t automatically mean they’re insured. That’s why it’s up to you to do the due diligence and make sure they are insured. Luckily, it’s not very complicated to get this information.
"Just ask the contractor to give you a certificate of insurance for workers compensation and liability," Moore says. "The certificates should come to you via mail, fax, or email - and they should come from the insurance company, not the contractor."
Tip #2 - Get Referrals and Check Online Reviews
Here's a tip for finding a trustworthy contractor: Ask your friends and family. Specifically, ask how their experience was, how the contractor performed, how well he or she communicated, and if there were any problems during the job.
But what if no one you know has worked with a contractor lately? Not to worry. Thanks to a little thing called the Internet, you have access to online reviews.
"One place you can check is the Better Business Bureau [ a nonprofit organization that informs consumers about businesses]," Moore says. "Regardless if the contractor is a member of the BBB or not, they will have a list of how many—if any—complaints have been filed against the contractor."
This information can help you get a better sense if they’re the right person for the job.
Tip #3 - Don’t Be Afraid to Ask a Lot of Questions
Remodeling your home is an investment of time and money. This means you'll want to be sure you’re hiring someone who's up for the requirements of the job.
To find out, Moore says you should ask potential contractors plenty of questions up front.
"Don’t be afraid to ask questions," he says. "If the contractor can’t answer them, that’s a red flag."
To start, here are some questions you might want to ask:
- How long have you been in business?
- Have you worked on projects similar to mine?
- How many times have you remodeled a bathroom/kitchen/etc. like this? What did the finished projects look like?
- How much do you think this project will cost?
- What happens if the project goes over budget?
Depending on how the contractor answers your questions, you should be able to gauge whether he or she will be a good fit.
Tip #4 - Always Have a Contract
No matter how "simple" you think your home improvement project is, it’s always important to have a contract.
Why? Because a contract will allow both you and the contractor to know what the job will cost, when the contractor will get paid, and what the contractor is going to do.
"Every major component or subcomponent of the job should be in the contract, especially if you don’t have a set of drawings," Moore says. "If you do have a set of drawings, those drawings should be spelled out in the contract as part of the scope of work."
Contracts can and should cover all of the above, as well as the following:
- When the project will start and end
- How and when you or the contractor is in default of the contract
- How any disputes will be rectified
- What happens if there is a delay due to weather, available materials, etc.
It’s also vital to note that without a contract, there's no legally binding agreement you can rely on to ensure the work is completed to your satisfaction, and within a reasonable amount of time.
If having a contract sounds like a hassle - it’s nothing compared to the hassles you might face without one.
Tip #5 - Don’t Pay Too Much Up Front
It’s customary in the home contracting business to pay up to a third of the full payment before the actual construction work begins, explains Moore.
Though you’re probably hesitant to give your money away without getting something in return, you'll be happy to know that this initial payment covers a lot of things, including materials for the job, as well as lining up the work force to complete the job.
"All contractors should be able to float part of the expenses [meaning they can afford to buy some of the materials required for the job before getting paid], but in today's economy some contractors need your money to buy the supplies," Moore explains. "It’s not fair to the contractor to expect them to float the entire project."
However, don’t be afraid to ask what your money is going to be used for. And more importantly, don’t start handing over more money before the agreed upon milestones have been reached. For example, you may have agreed to pay a certain amount upon completion of the roof, and then the rest upon final completion of the project.
"The contractor should never get the last draw of the job until it is 100 hundred percent finished," Moore says.