Getting a good estimate

Get at least three bids

As with any project, it's wise to get multiple bids. When you set out to find a contractor, get least three bids to ensure you have done your proper homework. Spend some time researching and don't just choose from the first five companies that show up on an Internet search. Choose a variety of small and large businesses, take recommendations from family members, neighbors and friends and make sure to get a minimum of three references from each roofing contractor you choose from.

Call suppliers to determine material costs

Part of the contractor's estimate will involve the cost of materials. However, most contractors will include a mark-up with this cost to ensure that they are fully accounted for. Since some contractors can get carried away with the mark-up aspect of the cost, you might want to call the suppliers yourself to determine how much the materials cost without the mark-up. This will help you figure out if the contractor's mark-up is reasonable. Be leery of really low prices. Everyone wants a discount. That can be a good thing. But the price for materials isn’t going to vary wildly enough to make up for a bad job.

Consider the time taken to deliver the estimate

If a contractor tells you that he or she will have the estimate by next Tuesday, but doesn't actually get it to you until Friday, this is likely a reflection of his or her work on the job as well. If you want to find a contractor who sticks to his or her word, consider whether or not they did everything they said they would in regard to the estimate. Doing so is a good way to evaluate the future of your project and prevent any possible setbacks due to bad work ethic.

home improvement contractor on roof with hammer

Don't hire a contractor who'll take the money and run; do your due diligence when hiring. (Photo by Katelin Kinney)

Questions to ask

There is a lot to think about in hiring any contractor, especially for a major project.  Make sure to take the following steps to find a contractor who fits best with your own thinking.

• Does your contractor have a headquarters? Homeowners should want their contractors to have permanent place of business. If the contractor is not permanently established, how can you be confident that they will complete the work or will be in business tomorrow should there be any problems?

• Is this company insured, and is the coverage adequate?  When you find a contractor you think you want to hire, make sure that employer has worker's compensation insurance and general liability insurance in case of accidents on the job. Ask for copies of these policies and keep them on file.

• Is the company in good standing with a trade association?

• How long has the company been in business? You might want to be leery of a contractor promising to be an overnight success. A long-time, well-established contractor is likely to be a safer bet.  Considering the length of time a contractor has been in business is a good indicator of their ability; however, there are many contractors who claim years of experience. Protect yourself by asking for proof of business length.

• What is the contractor’s record on complaint resolution? Make sure to get references, and review past work.

• Does the company provide sufficient details for the project being performed?

• Make sure everything is in writing. The contract is one of the best ways to prevent problems before you begin. The contract protects you and the contractor by including everything you have both agreed upon. Get all promises in writing, and spell out exactly what the contractor will and will not do. When receiving the contract, make sure all sources of concern are involved to avoid a miscommunication. Do not accept vague proposals or prices written down on the back of a business card.

• Do your homework. Whether you are in need of a new roof, repairs, maintenance, gutters or skylights, it is important to do your research.

Best & Worst

Each year, the Angie's List Magazine staff analyzes the past year's complaints and ratings to compile the top ten best and worst contractors in major U.S. cities.

Best Contractors come from popular home improvement categories and must qualify for the prestigious 2011 Angie's List Super Service Award, which requires they have a current and overall grade of A and be in good standing with Angie's List. The Best also must have had a flawless - or nearly flawless - overall record, a minimum of six reports and multiple Page of Happiness nominations in the reporting period. These requirements put them in the top 1 percent of contractors eligible for the SSA.

To determine the Worst Contractors, the Angie's List Magazine staff scrutinized member reports, Penalty Box cases and court records. Scores of sources were interviewed, basing selections on the gravity or volume of allegations and the amount of damage customers say those contractors inflicted.

Lastly, the Angie's List Trade Licensing Department audited every Best Contractor finalist for compliance with state and local laws. Any contractor tentatively on a Best list was removed if unable to produce a valid trade license or prove they didn't need one.

Avoiding scams

The best way to prevent a bad experience when you’re trying to find a contractor is to know the warning signs.  If you take a proactive approach to hiring and research all potential candidates, it should reduce the chances significantly that you will have a negative experience. Use the following tips to help you spot problematic contractors and to resolve any issues if they should arise.

• Avoid door-to-door solicitors and those who only accept cash payments, offer discounts for finding customers or pressure you to make a quick decision.

• Verify the business is licensed to operate in your area, and check to see if it has a local address. Besides the fact that it makes it easy to reach the contractor, it also shows that the company has established itself and it provides more legitimacy. You should definitely avoid contractors who only want to give you a telephone number.

• Ask the contractor for multiple references from past customers and check them. Visit the job sites if possible and speak to the homeowners. A contractor who doesn’t want to provide any references should be avoided.

Negotiate the down payment

What is a contract?

People signs contracts left and right, often without even reading them. Every time you sign a credit card receipt, or check a box agreeing to the terms of service on a website, you are legally binding your name to a contract.

Contracts can be lengthy, especially when it's a major remodeling job run by a general contractor, and they’re written in legal jargon that is difficult to understand. In most cases, the contract was crafted by a lawyer whose job was to protect the company or person named in the contract, yet most people are quick to sign a contract without even reading it.

In a March 2011 nationwide consumer survey, Angie’s List found that 16 percent of the respondents don’t fully read contracts before they sign them.

RELATED: Angie's List Guide to Signing a Contract

Working with contractors

After you hire a contractor and sign a contract, it's important to understand what to expect during the course of a project. Honest contractors depend on customers being satisfied with their work, but sometimes, especially during complex projects, homeowners and contractors need to find ways to work together to solve unexpected problems.

RELATED: Angie's List Guide to Working With Contractors

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