11 Tips for Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor

Make sure you discuss all aspects of the agreement before hiring a contractor. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)

Make sure you discuss all aspects of the agreement before hiring a contractor. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)

Everyone has heard the expression, “You get what you pay for.” This saying is never more relevant than when you're planning a home improvement or remodeling project that involves hiring a contractor. Going by price alone increases the risk of project failure and can lead to higher costs down the road.

With the proper planning and a knowledgeable contractor, you can be assured of a job well done at a reasonable cost. Remember that home improvement or remodeling can be a fun experience for both you and your family. You should always choose the contractor you feel most comfortable working with.

Here are 11 tips to get the most out of your contractor and next home improvement project:

1. Connect with your contractor

The right person for the job will be easy to talk to. Make sure you see eye to eye by hiring a contractor that understands your goals and has experience in the type of job you are looking for. Communication is key for all projects, so insist on regular contact by email, phone or text messages. Allow the work crew to manage their day-to-day work, but set up a weekly face-to-face update from the foreman.

2. Understand that price reflects quality

Ask your contractor for his or her recommendations on how the project should take place. In the long run, is it worth cutting corners for a temporary fix? The lowest bid is not always the best. Request a written description of the materials necessary for the job. A low bid may indicate that a contractor uses sub-par materials or is desperate for work. The more accurate bid is likely somewhere in the middle.

3. Know a contractor's credentials

Abbreviations behind your contractor’s name can represent certifications from national trade organizations and that company belonging to certain organizations that bound them to a strict code of ethics. Such memberships, titles and abbreviations include certified graduate remodeler (CGR), certified aging in place specialist (CAPS), local Building Industry Association membership (BIA) and National Association of Home Builders membership (NAHB).  Also, insist on hiring a licensed, bonded and insured contractor. This is a must. Otherwise, as the property owner you are liable if a member of the work crew gets injured on the job.

Contractor working
Always check if a contractor is licensed, bonded and insured to protect yourself from liability. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Dave G., Columbus, Ohio)

4. Get it in writing

Your contract should include: detailed time frames, the total cost, payment arrangements, your contractor’s license number, project description, names of parties involved and how to handle additional costs if necessary. Be cautious, if you are not given a timeline for the job to be completed, this may indicate the contractor has several current jobs and may not complete your job timely. Keep track of all important information as well by keeping job-related documents like contracts, payments and receipts in one place.  Record key contact information for everyone working on your project.

5. Be upfront about your budget

If necessary, break the project down into multiple phases. Although this may increase the total cost due to repetitious start-up expenses and inflation, it may also be a better option for you to spread out the cost over time. Homeowners can often save money by doing minimal tasks on their own, such as cleaning and painting.

6. Educate yourself

Know what permits are required and what regulations need to be followed for your remodeling project. Your contractor or architect should be responsible for applying and acquiring all necessary permits. Don't be passive, however, ask for information. Know what’s going on behind the scenes. The cost of the job will increase if the contractor is surprised by outdated wiring or other concealed budget busters.

Related: Homeowners pay when contractors fail to pull permits

Kitchen remodel
Successful projects can be fun, with proper planning and organization, experts say. (Photo courtesy of Candace M. San Diego)

7. Be prepared

Select your colors and finishes before the painter arrives to save time. Review sample materials to make sure you are happy with them.  Don't forget to make space for the crew. Allow them to keep their supplies and equipment on site. The more organized and accessible these items are, the faster they will be able to do their work. Try to avoid any potential loss. Remove any valuables or easily damaged items from the work site.  Prevent dust accumulation by sealing the entry point with plastic sheeting and blue painter’s tape. Finally, have a “go-to-guy.” Pick someone to be the key contact between the contractor and the family. This will help keep communication clean and clear to avoid confusion.

8. Wait to demolish

Begin demolition only after the new equipment and supplies have arrived, including windows, doors, appliances or any other essential items.

9. Be courteous of your neighbors

Inform the work crew where your property lines are located to prevent materials from being placed in the wrong area.

10. Keep your eye on the prize

Although the project will be disruptive, don't forget that the end result will be worth it.

11. Ensure things are complete before signing off on the job

Schedule a final walkthrough. Meet with your contractor and make note of any tasks that need to be completed. Be sure to request an affidavit of final release or lien wavier. Once the job is complete and the final payment is made, this clears you of any liability for third-party claims.

Related: What is a lien release or a lien waiver?


Editor's note: This is an updated version of a story originally published on August 31, 2012.

Matt Blank is the Marketing Department (yes, the whole thing!) for MBC Building & Remodeling in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. MBC Building & Remodeling has been serving Lancaster County, Pennsylvania since 1999. Matt also plays drums with the band The Slackwater News.

As of September, 24, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angie’s List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check AngiesList.com for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie’s List.

 


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Be sure to compare bids before signing a remodeling contract. (Photo by Jennica Abrams)
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Comments

Thanks for the comments Deane. I updated the story and put in more information to help consumers. I hope it helps you in the future.  

Ive been in the construction line of work for 35 years. First things I look for equipment neat and well kept. Truck or van Lettered name of company phone # / Lic. number and location. I find only about 20 % of construction equipment cars/trucks/vans have proper signage. If you use these couple steps and then add above you will have no problems. In most cases home owners try to save money that's understandable. But don't set yourself up by hiring the guy whom looks like hes not making much money to save money. They will treat your job the same way details missing. Boston Ma.

While these tips are nice, they are short and really do not give you the right important information that you need to know if you are going to make an informed decision. There are many contractors out there who can talk a good story but don't have a clue what they are doing. I know as I have been in the construction industry for over 30 years. I have thrown many a contractor off the job because they had no idea what they were doing and were way over their heads

Good info

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