There are many decisions in life that you have to make. Some are easy, and others very hard. Choosing the right contractor for your home improvement needs should be just as important, and will be one of the most crucial decisions you’ll ever have to make depending on the scope of work. If you are planning a few “must dos” around your home, it serves to do your homework on your contractor, and prepare yourself. In the grand scheme of things, your findings, and research will have an impact the tipping scale. It could make a difference in the outcome of your future home improvement project, whether a blissful experience or a shocking train wreck. You hear the stories, they do exist. Here are 5 tips to add to your checklist:
1. Verify license and insurance: do not be afraid to ask for proof of insurance with general liability coverage for at least 1 – 2 million dollars. Depending on where the subject is located, some management companies mandate as high as 5 million in coverage and should include workers compensation. Why is this important? This insurance covers a range of mishaps from accidents to pure negligence and innocent, but costly oversight. You do not want to have to pay for something you did not cause. If you are not working with a licensed contractor, you are walking a tight rope without a net. The Department of Consumer Affairs requires an exam to be taken, finger prints to be kept on record, and registration of contractors in their area of expertise. If DCA does not know who your contractor is, you won’t either when something goes wrong, and your contractor does not return your call after being paid.
2. Lowest estimate does not always get the charm: if you have gathered countless estimates on your project, at various amounts, the lowest does not equal a score. Be very careful in your decision making. A bathroom renovation is not a shirt, and in this business you really do walk away with what you pay for. If you are considering the lowest estimate, get your questions ready, and find out why the estimate you have is so much lower than the others you have gathered. Compare apples to apples. Trust me, there is never a true bargain. You are paying for the discount somewhere. Buyer beware, as we say.
3. Research your contractor’s record: we live by internet, and chances are if your contractor has a history of shoddy work, it is has been posted on some community online forum or with the Better Business Bureau. The BBB maintains open and closed files on complaints and will rate your contractor. If your contractor has open, and unresolved matters with the BBB, you may want to consider moving on to the next candidate. Regardless of the reason, you do not want to have the “shame on you” experience.
4. Memberships or affiliations: if your contractor has loyalty to his trade, he will belong to various associations related to his craft. Though this should not be considered a deal breaker. A contractor who participates in trade associations has a vested interest and demonstrates focus in their community as reputable tradesmen. They take what they know, and do seriously, and want to maintain the faith of their customers. If the research on your contractor falls short on everything including their affiliation with any trade unions or associations….run.
5. Check references: a HUGE must. Depending on the scope of your home improvement needs, whether it is a kitchen, basement, bathroom renovation; just taking a contractor’s word that they can do the job is not enough. Ask for references, and when you get them, consider taking a look at the finished product. Best visual is proof with the naked eye. Be sure to ask about the experience from start to finish: How long did the work take? Was the work completed within the time noted on the contract? How did the customer find the contractor you are thinking of using? Have they used the contractor for other work? I would not encourage getting too much into the cost because styles, make, design, material, and overall layout will not be the same as yours. There are many factors that impact the bottom line in any renovation. In the end, you want to walk away feeling that you made the right choice, and your gut will never be wrong. If it feels wrong, it usually is.