Hiring a Remodeling Contractor
Whether you’re planning a kitchen and bathroom remodel, or just want to add some extra living space to your home, do your homework before you hire. Separating the good contractors from the bad isn’t as difficult as it might seem. With just a bit of effort, you can save, time, money and a lot of stress while turning your home into a haven.
Angie’s List tips for hiring:
- Do you need a general contractor? For larger projects, especially those that may involve several different service providers, hire a general contractor to oversee the various specialized areas, which could include carpenters, plumbers, electricians and engineers, depending on the size of your project.
- Do you need an architect? Some homeowners are turning to architects, rather than general contractors to design and oversee their project. Some communities require an architect for certain remodeling projects, including those that affect the structural integrity of your home. Take the time to research specifically which professional will best meet your needs and which ones are required.
- Shock value: Most remodeling projects will require at least some attention from an electrician. Electrical systems on homes built 30-40 years ago were not designed to carry the extra load of all the appliances homes use today. At a minimum, have a licensed, qualified electrician review your system to be sure you’re not endangering your family.
- Will you go green? Green remodeling can lead to energy savings, possible tax credits, and a healthier environment. Finding a green contractor requires the same attention to detail and research as hiring any other professional for your home. The contractor should be able to explain more than just the “green” approach, but also the benefits to you and your home.
- Clearly define your project: Before you begin talking with contractors or architects, pick up remodeling magazines, search the Internet for information on designs and materials and put your ideas on paper. Even rough ideas on paper are better than nothing at all. It will give a potential contractor a better sense of what your expectations are and what you're hoping to accomplish.
- Do your research: Don’t just hire based on a conversation. Check consumer reviews of the contractor you plan to hire through Angie’s List. Be cautious of contractors who give you a post office box with no street address or only use an answering service.
- Check references: Get names of previous customers and find out if they were pleased with the work and the timeline of the project, as well as if they’d hire the contractor again. Get the names of subcontractors and ask if they work with the contractor often and if he or she pays on time. If your contractor balks at providing references, move on.
- License for hire: Determine if contractors must be licensed to perform the job. Contractor licensing laws vary by city, state and township. Check with local departments of commerce, consumer affairs or professional regulators. If licenses are required for your project, ask for a trade license number; be sure you don’t receive a business or occupational license number instead.
- Insured & bonded? Check the status of the contractor’s bonding and liability insurance coverage. At a minimum, all contractors should carry liability and workers’ compensation insurance.
- Does your home have lead-based paint? If your house is older than 1978, it very likely contains lead-based paint. Beginning April 22 2010, any contractor who might disturb lead paint in homes built before 1978 will be required to be trained and accredited in proper lead safety techniques. A certified contractor should tell you that he or she will follow the new lead-safe work practices, including isolating the area where lead paint will be disturbed with plastic sheeting, posting warning signs, cleaning up thoroughly every day, and avoiding the now-banned removal techniques. Check status with Angie’s List or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
- Get estimates: Take the time to get at least three written estimates for your job. And get it in writing. Documentation is often the best ammunition you have if things go wrong
- Prepare your family for the stress: This is one of the most overlooked, but critical considerations. How will the project change your routine, especially if it’s a kitchen or bath? Where will materials be stored? What are the working hours for the crew?
- Know your budget and payment options: Be wary of contractors who want large deposits up front. Most contractors who require a deposit charge between 10 percent and 15 percent of the total value of the project. Even the most careful budget will change, especially if your project includes hidden problems. Never pay for a project with cash; always use a credit card so you have recourse in case something goes wrong. Before you sign off and make the final payment, check that the work is complete to your total satisfaction.
- Review all aspects of the contract before you sign: Never sign a blank contract and don't assume that certain specifics are included, such as appliance installation. Know the details of the contract, as well as how any change orders will be handled. Keep all paperwork involved in your project, including proof of licensing, bonding and insurance, the contract, invoices, proof of payment, and all letters and e-mails. Photos of the job in progress can be helpful, too.
- Confirm the “punch list” procedure: A punch list details the remaining tasks your contractor will perform before your project is complete. This is a great way to keep track of all the things you want accomplished. A punch list can be created at the beginning of a project, but is often developed as your project nears completion. Common tasks include things like, cleaning up construction debris and finishing trim. Determine the cost of these items, double it, and then withhold that amount from the final payment until the punch list is complete.