How to Hire a Contractor

by > Saturday, 27 April 2013 > Published in Buyer tips

Over the time you own your home, it’s very likely that you’re going to need to have some work done. If you’re an avid DIYer, that’s great, but many of us don’t have the skills or the time to undertake complex projects. The natural choice, then, is to hire a contractor. This always isn’t as easy as it seems. Here are some guidelines to help you choose the best contractor for the job.

Getting Ready

When you’re considering a major project, be sure you understand the reasons for doing so. For many people, improvements are done to add value and functionality to the home. You should approach the process thoughtfully and with plenty of common sense. If you’ve decided to use a contractor, it’s important to find one with the right qualifications for your specific project. One of the best ways to locate a contractor is to get recommendations from family and friends. It’s also a good idea to check with the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) to learn about any certifications the contractor might hold, such as a certified remodeler (CR) or a certified remodeler specialist (CRS). NARI’s certification programs recognize the achievements and skills of nine distinct categories of remodeling professionals that are of particular interest to homeowners. For more information, visit

Do Phone Interviews

Once you’ve narrowed the field down to a few contractors, telephone each one and ask a series of relevant questions. Be sure to find out how long they’ve been working in the field and whether they’re willing to provide references, both from homeowners they’ve worked for and financial references from banks or suppliers. This can tell you a lot about how the contractor does business. If the project is large or extensive, make sure that the contractor has experience in projects of its type and size. One question homeowners often forget to ask is how many other projects the contractor will be working on, along with theirs. If possible, try to make sure your project gets the contractor’s full attention. Most contractors use subcontractors, so ask how long the one you’re considering has worked with theirs. The answers you get will give you a good picture of the contractor’s availability and reliability, as well as a sense of how smoothly the work will go.

Meet the Contractor in Person

Pick two or three contractors, based on the telephone interviews. Meet with them in person to explain your project and get an estimate. The contractor should be willing to address your concerns and answer all questions in detail. The best contractors will put you at ease and engender your confidence. Good communication is essential. Even the best contractor needs to be able to explain their approach and the tools and techniques they’ll be using on the project. The contractor should project a professional and competent image. Be sure to check with your state’s consumer protection agency or your local Better Business Bureau to be sure the contractor has a good track record of finishing jobs on time, and within the allotted budget. Try to learn whether the contractor has a history of disputes, either with subcontractors or clients. If you can do so, visit one of the contractor’s current job sites to see how he works. The job site should be neat and clean, and the workers should be courteous and careful with the homeowner’s property.

Get Competitive Bids

Once you’ve narrowed the field, it’s time to get bids. The contractor should want a set of blueprints and also should have a clear sense of what you’re expecting from the project. When obtaining bids, ask all contractors to cost out materials, labor, profit margin and other relevant expenses. Material usually accounts for about 40% of the project’s total cost. A typical profit margin is between 15% and 20%. The rest covers overhead. Also, ask for a payment schedule and beware of contractors who want a huge percentage of the cost up front. A typical payment schedule would be 10% paid when the contract is signed, and then 3 payments of 25% evenly spaced over the length of the project. The remaining 15% is paid when the project’s completed to your satisfaction. If a bid seems excessively low, don’t consider it, because it’s likely the contractor will cut corners, or is desperate for work. The single most important factor in choosing a contractor is how well he communicates and how comfortable you are with him.

Get a Written Contract

Draw up a written contract that details every step of the project, such as the payment schedule. The contractor also should submit proof that he has liability insurance and workers compensation insurance. Be sure the contract includes a start date and projected completion date. It should list the specific products and materials that will be used. The contract should contain an assurance that the contractor will get lien releases from all subcontractors and suppliers. These are designed to protect you if he doesn’t pay his bills.

Insisting on a clear contract doesn’t mean you distrust the contractor. It’s necessary to ensure that the project is successfully completed.

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