Hiring the right contractor is the key to the success of your home improvement project. By choosing a good home improvement contractor and drawing up a solid contract, you can ensure the work is done well and to your specifications, avoid payment disputes, reduce problems during the job, and weed out scammers. Although selecting the right contractor can be time-consuming, your efforts will pay off in the long run. Here's how to pick a home improvement contractor and write up a detailed contract for your project. (To learn about options for financing your home improvement project, see Nolo's article Financing Your Home Improvement Project.)
Start your search for a home improvement contractor by getting recommendations from friends, family, and coworkers. You can also check with the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) for members near you (visit NARI's website at www.nari.org). Or ask a building inspector for the names of local contractors who regularly meet state and local code requirements.
No matter whose recommendation you rely on, it's best to gravitate toward contractors who have been established in your community for some time. Don't get scammed by a shady home improvement contractor. According to the Federal Trade Commission, it's best to steer clear of contractors who:
Once you have a list of contractors, conduct telephone interviews to determine whether they're available, can handle the type and size of your project, and can provide you with references.
Then meet with at least three contractors in your home. This is your chance to see how well you can communicate with the contractor (an important factor since you'll be dealing with the contractor on a daily basis) and to ask detailed questions about the contractor's business, experience, and your project.
Get written bids from at least three contractors. The bids should include a breakdown (by cost) of what work will be done and what materials will be used. Discuss variations in price with each contractor. A bid may be higher because the contractor is using better materials or paying a specialist to perform certain repairs, such as plumbing.
As a general rule of thumb, throw out any bids that are significantly lower than the others. An extremely low bid is a sign that the contractor may use low-quality materials, cut corners, or be desperate for work.
Your next task is to conduct an independent investigation into the contractors and their businesses. Do the following:
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