Hiring a contractor can be intimidating, especially for new homeowners. You need new countertops in your kitchen and a sink in your bathroom! Who do you call? — or do you email? How many estimates should you get? How much money should you pay up-front? Here is a simple, yet informative, guide to hiring a contractor.
How To Find a Contractor:
In most areas, there are hundreds of contractors, so narrowing down your list can be a daunting task. The first thing you can do is ask your family, friends and even acquaintances if they can recommend someone. To broaden your net, post a request for contractor referrals on Facebook or write an email to your group of friends and ask them to forward along your inquiry. A first-hand referral is the best way to find a top-notch contractor. Once you get a personal recommendation, ask questions because you might have different needs and expectations than the person making the referral.
Be sure to ask:
• Was the project completed within budget and on-time?
• Were there any problems with the quality of the work?
• If they had another home project, would they rehire their contractor or would they research other contractors?
Don't worry if you can't get a personal recommendation. There are plenty of contractor directories online. Consider using directories that include a rating system and offer reviews, like Angie's List and Yelp. These are great consumer resources and can help you weed out unprofessional or sloppy contractors. In fact, in an age where online reviews are common-place, it's amazing that bad contractors still get business!
How To Contact a Contractor:
Once you find 3 to 5 contractors that come highly recommended by a friend, family or internet review, get up the courage and actually call them on the phone. There are several reasons why you should call instead of email. First, the turnaround time is faster. Also, speaking with someone is a good way to gauge the way they approach work. If someone is rude and dismissive when you call, don't waste your time meeting with them, they might not think twice about treating your project the same way!
One question people always ask is: how many estimates should I get before I start a project? The simple answer for large projects is 3. Major jobs can vary in price by hundreds or even thousands of dollars. You should make sure your contractor visits the project area and gives you an estimate based on set criteria like:
• Do the bids include the same quality material (i.e. carpet, wood cabinetry and tile)?
• Do the bids include all services from start to finish?
• Do the bids include all fees, licenses and warranties?
Another issue people find confusing is: when is it appropriate to ask a contractor to visit the project area for an estimate? Obviously, if you have a small job worth $200, you aren't going to find 3 contractors willing to visit your home and offer a bid. This is a tough question because it can vary by region, but any job over $800 should merit a home visit. Anything under $800 should be discussed over the phone. Be sure to describe your project in detail, highlighting any potential problems. It's better to know how much a project will cost up-front, as opposed to being blind-sided by extra fees after you've drafted a budget.
What To Look For:
Before you accept the lowest bid, make sure you do your due diligence on your contractor, regardless of whether or not you get glowing reviews from a friend or family member. Ask your contractors for referrals from past clients. If you can, talk to the referrals on the phone instead of emailing. This is another situation where it's important to interact with a person, paying close attention to their tone. Also, look up your contractor on the Better Business Bureau website and make sure there haven't been any serious complaints. Always ask your contractor for copies of their licenses and insurance or check online at Contractor's License Reference Site.
Contracts are essential. If your contractor doesn't want to sign a contract or doesn't have one readily available, find someone else. The terms of each contract will vary depending on your project. However, you want to make sure your contract is amended to your specific project. For example, if you are hiring a painter, don't just sign a general contract. The contract should include the exact rooms you need painted and the paint numbers along with any other particular instructions. The more specific the terms of your contract are — the more recourse you have if things go wrong. Your contract should also include the basic budget, a firm deadline and provision ensuring the contractor will pay for any damage done to your property.
How much you pay up-front can vary by state and can be mandated by law, but typically contractors will ask for 30 percent to 50 percent. Never pay your contractor the full amount until the job is finished, and never pay in cash — it's important to have records of all our payments.
Do you have your own advice to share when hiring contractors?