Tips for Hiring and Working with a Contractor

As you start your spring remodeling projects, you may also be starting your search for a good, reliable contractor for that bathroom or kitchen renovation. As many know or have experienced, working with a contractor can be very rewarding or very frustrating. Being the daughter of a contractor and hiring contractors myself, I've learned many invaluable lessons when working with contractors.
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Remodeling can be exhausting, but should be fun. Educate yourself on the in's and out's with working with contractors and you will save yourself heartache and a little cash. I comprised a list of the best advice I was given from my father - a contractor.
  • Sign a contract. No matter how small the job, always obtain a contract. Please trust me on this one, it is always important to have the terms of the project in writing.
  • Set a Start and End Date. A start and end date should be determined and written in the contract. Many contractors have many remodeling projects that they work on simultaneously. If you don't set a definitive end date, your project might lose priority over another homeowner's job.
  • Get Multiple Quotes. This may seem like the obvious, but contractors are salesmen and will try to sell you on their services to eliminate the competition. Also, be aware that the lowest quote is not always the best deal because the work may not be the level of quality that you expect.
  • Ask for References. Spend the extra time and call each of the references and ask various questions regarding the quality of the work, work ethic of the contractor, etc. It is also helpful to see examples of previous work to see to determine quality control and abilities.
  • Specify Handyman or Contractor. There is a strong distinction from a handyman vs. a contractor. You can usually find all around handyman on Craigslist or from another local source. Handymen are typically individuals who are not licensed, don't have a specialization, and don't work in construction full-time. Contractors should be licensed, know the building codes, have many years of experience, and work in remodeling or construction full-time.
  • Set the Terms for Payment. Have you ever paid a contractor in full or given him the final payment too early only to have to stalk him later? The best policy regarding pay is to split the payment into either half to start and the other half at the end of completion (small projects) or pay in increments (larger projects). Regarding the method of payment, contractors who work for themselves usually prefer cash or a check. They will usually give you a lower quote for the inconvenience of not being able to charge the project. When working with a construction or installation company vs. an individual, they will usually provide a couple methods of payment including a payment plan and payment by credit card. The trade-off, however, is generally a higher price for their services.
  • Ask for a Contractor License. Legit contractors should be licensed and know the local building codes.
  • Determine their Speciality. Most contractors have a speciality such as finish work, framing, plumbing, electrical, etc. Hire a contractor within his speciality to produce the best possible results. Also, note that plumbing and electrical contractors have to be licensed in their specialty and no other type of contractor can do their work.
  • Provide your Own Materials when Appropriate. Contractors have a practice of marking up the price of materials they use for the job. If it is a small job, ask if you can provide your own materials which will help you control costs and eliminate the mystery behind the final price.
  • Determine if they work by the hour or a flat rate. If they work by the hour, create a timesheet that hangs on the wall so you are both on the same page all along regarding the accumulation of hours. We generally prefer a flat rate, so we can budget appropriately.
  • Know the Jargon. If you are knowledgeable and familiar with the remodeling process, you are more likely to be respected and given a better price. This is always a great way to keep from a fast one being pulled on you.
  • Check in Frequently. When the boss is away at your office, how productive are you? The same principle coincides with a remodeling job. Checking in is also a preventative measure for catching any mistakes early on.

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(Image: Flickr member dani0010 licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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DIY, Painting

Marcia is an interior, portrait, and travel photographer and has photographed over 50 homes of creatives. Her photographic style is capturing her subject in the most natural state and creating an emotional response.

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