Hiring the Right Contractor

What You Need to Know Before Hiring a Contractor

By SaleCore for MiamiRE

Whether you’re planning a move, or just moved into a new house, you may have home improvement projects you need assistance in completing. As you plan your next home renovation project, choosing the right contractor for the job is a critical first step in your planning process. As experts in building and remodeling projects, contractors can manage all the necessary permits, inspections, labor, equipment, and materials to ensure your project is successful. It’s important, however, to do your research so that you don’t end up with an untrustworthy contractor who will scam you, or an inexperienced contractor who does an inadequate job. Follow these steps to ensure you hire the right person for your project.

Concept 3D drawing of remodeled kitchen

Defining Your Project

As the client, you are driving the process. Before speaking with contractors, spend ample time outlining your goals for the project. Envision what it might look like, the amenities you want, etc. Set a project timeline, as well as a budget. If you need help developing your plan, consider hiring a project design consultant. Your detailed project plan should also include blueprints or sketches of your finished project, and be divided into DIY steps and steps that will require a professional.

Finding a Dependable Contractor

There are several things to consider when it’s time to select a contractor, and eliminating these steps can be detrimental. Don’t be pressured into making an immediate decision, and keep in mind that some contractors are specialists while others are generalists. Thus, when you are ready to select your contractor, make sure their abilities are appropriate to your project.

  • Compile Local Recommendations: Begin by getting referrals for local contractors from your friends and family, and then research trustworthy resources in your area. Local contractors are easier to contact if problems develop with the work in the future, and they are more likely to be familiar with building codes in your area.
Phone interview checklist notepad and pen
  • Conduct Phone Interviews: Once you've compiled your list, make a call to each of your prospects to briefly assess their qualifications for your project. The wrong answer to a few simple inquiries can quickly eliminate the contractor from the running, so it is important to ask the right questions.
    • How much experience do they have in the field? A minimum of five years is preferable.
    • Do they provide free estimates? Most contractors do, but if the project will exceed several thousand dollars, some contractors will likely prepare, and charge for, a "scope of work proposal." The proposal fee is often paid upfront and applied toward the project cost only if the bid is accepted. Be sure you are aware of this, and if you are willing to pay.
    • Can they provide a list of references? If the contractor you are considering is unwilling to offer contact information for previous clients, chances are they have not done good work in the past.
    • Are they properly licensed, insured, and bonded? Do not do business with a contractor who is not licensed or does not carry the appropriate insurance coverage. If the contractor is not insured, you may be liable for accidents that occur on your property. Obtain license and policy numbers, then verify that they are current.
    • How many projects do they work at the same time? This will affect the timeline of your project and is therefore critical for you to know, especially if you have deadlines of your own.

The answers to these questions will indicate the contractor’s availability, reliability, and how much attention they'll be able to give your project.

Concept of a magnifying glass looking at Details written on chalkboard
  • Examine the Details: Check in with your state's consumer protection agency and local Better Business Bureau to ensure the remaining prospects don't have a history of disputes with clients or subcontractors. Call references to inquire about the quality of their project workmanship and client satisfaction. Track small indicators that signal professionalism or a lack thereof. Were client phone calls returned in a timely manner and appointment/meeting times prompt? If the answer is no, you may want to rethink this contractor.
  • Meet Face-to-Face: Based on your research, you should now have a short list of contractors whose track records seem clean and whose work ethic looks responsible. Schedule a face-to-face meeting with each one at the job site for further discussion and estimates, ensuring you compare apples to apples. Get an itemized breakdown of the costs for building materials, labor costs, profit margins, work methods, timelines and other factors that may vary by contractor. Be cautious of estimates that are too high or too low, and don't let the price be your guide. A contractor who throws out the lowest bid is probably cutting corners or desperate for work. In addition, beware of any contractor who asks you to pay in cash or pay for the entire project upfront. Beyond technical competence, comfort should play an equal or greater role in your decision. A contractor should be able to answer your questions satisfactorily and in a manner that puts you at ease. The single most important factor in choosing a contractor is your rapport and communication, as this person will be at your home for hours at a time. In addition, you will want to find know if:
    • Is this an individual or team job? Some jobs will require the work of an individual contractor, while others may require a few people coming into your home to do the job. This is something you need to be aware of ahead of time, as it could affect price and foot traffic in your home.
    • Does the contractor guarantee their work? A good contractor will guarantee their work if they’re serious about what they do. If something is wrong, they will return to fix or redo it.

Getting it in Writing

Once you have decided on a contractor, it is imperative to secure a comprehensive and well-written contract before any of the work begins. It will minimize any miscommunication, set expectations, and protects you from unexpected costs and legal consequences. If the project involves substantial costs, consider having a lawyer review the proposed contract for your protection before you sign it. Your independent contractor agreement should be clear, concise, and include:

Macro view of a printed contract with ballpoint pen laying on top
  • The contractor's name (business name), address, phone number, and professional license number.
  • A detailed scope of work listing what jobs the contractor will perform.
  • The project timeline, including estimated start and completion dates.
  • A list of all supplies and building materials needed.
  • A payment schedule for the contractor. Pay in increments by check and get receipts.
  • A process for approving change orders. Document any changes to the contract in writing. If you and the contractor agree to any changes during the renovation, make sure they are put in writing and signed by both parties.
  • Guarantees that the work performed will be done in a professional manner, according to all applicable codes and standards.
  • The contractor's obligation to obtain all necessary permits, as well as who will pay for the applicable permits and inspections.
  • Penalties for unsatisfactory or incomplete work by the projected date/within a reasonable time, as well as a termination clause for unreasonably slow progress, incompetency or carelessness.
  • A lien release for all employees, suppliers, and subcontractors of the contractor.
  • An indemnity and hold harmless clause against any claim, demand, loss, liability, damage or expense arising from the contractor’s work.
  • A statement of your right to cancel the contract.
  • Signatures from both parties, and be sure you never sign a contract containing blank sections.

Any contractor you hire will become part of your life for at least the duration of the project. Be sure you select someone with whom you can communicate and trust. Reputable professionals will insist on clear written agreements in order to protect both parties. In addition, be sure to:

Yellow construction helmet on table with laptop, level, and blueprints
  • Set boundaries for the job site by establishing some ground rules about parking, bathroom use, smoking, and other issues that might concern you during the project.
  • Anticipate delays, they happen and may not be the fault of your contractor. In spite of the timeline outlined in your contract, circumstances such as weather may prevent the work from staying on schedule. Be realistic and prepare to adjust your plans accordingly.
  • Keep an ongoing project file that includes a copy of the contract, contractor licenses, proof of insurance, any change orders, plans and specifications, bills and invoices, canceled checks, photographs of progress, and any letters, notes and correspondence with the contractor. These records are important if you have problems with your project either during or after construction.

Following these important steps will set you up for a successful partnership with your contractor.

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