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Home Improvement Contractors - How to Choose Them

Updated on August 7, 2013

Home Improvement Can Be Expensive

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Home Improvements need not be a nightmare


In a difficult real estate market, many homeowners decide to improve their homes rather than look for a new one. When the home market was hot, you would simply put your house up for sale to buy a new one to accommodate a growing family. But with the uncertainty of finding a buyer, trading up is no longer simple option, and improving what you have is often the best choice.

Renovation rather than trading can be the best choice. But , unless you are talented in the construction arts, renovation usually means hiring a general contractor to do the job for you. Finding a construction company or home improvement contractor is the easy part: they're all over the place. But finding the right home improvement contractor is the tricky part. It's not only tricky, it's the most essential part of your home improvement project. Hire a bad contractor and your project can become a nightmare. Hire a good one and your project can be as exciting as buying a new home. It's about more than just money; it's about avoiding emotional turmoil.

The Worksite Should Be Cleaned Every Day

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The Telltale Signs of a Bad Home Improvement Contractor

  • You are asked for a large down payment and the contractor doesn't show up for weeks, sometimes never.
  • The contractor shows up sporadically, does a little work and then disappears for a while.
  • At the end of every day on the job, the construction site is a shambles with dust and dangerous debris everywhere.
  • You constantly call the contractor, but always get an answering machine, never a return phone call.
  • When the job is eventually completed there is a "punch list" of things that need to be redone or otherwise corrected.

The Steps You Must Take to Avoid Hiring the Wrong Home Improvement Contractor

Every time you make an important decision, especially a major financial one, you have to take the necessary steps to protect yourself. If you make the wrong decision up front, correcting it is like putting scrambled eggs back into a shell. You want to look back and enjoy the results of your project. You don't want to sit in a lawyer's office and listen to what you should have done. Here is a list of the steps that you must take, and those to avoid, when hiring a home improvement contractor.

  • Do not trust your gut instinct. Many people consider themselves to be excellent judges of character. When they interview home improvement contractors, they assume that they can tell whether he's competent based on what he says.This is a big a mistake as hiring an employee for your business based on an interview alone. The contractor, just like a prospective employee, is on his or her best behavior because there is a job at stake.
  • Insist on a list of at least five local references of people for whom the contractor has done work. This is crucial. If he's reluctant and tries to give you a story about protecting the privacy of his clients, end the interview immediately. When you do get the references, call every person on the list. Ask if you can see the finished work. Unless you're a journalist, you may not be adept at jotting down notes from a phone interview. So have a few questions that can be rated on a scale of one to five, with one being the best and five being the worst. Here are some good rating type questions to ask:

·Overall satisfaction with the contractor? (1-5)

·Was the job completed in a timely manner? (1-5)

·Did the contractor correct any problems to your satisfaction? (1-5)

·Was the price reasonable? (1-5)

  • Research for any complaints against the contractor. Most local governments, usually at the county level, provide licenses to contractors. Not only do they license the contractor, they often serve as a central clearing house of complaints. Check this list carefully.
  • "Independent" reviews. Companies that provide consumer reviews, such as the heavily advertised Angie's List, should be treated with a bit of caution. Not only does Angie's List provide you with complaints about a wide variety of trades and professions, there are a lot of complaints about Angie's List itself.Suppose you're a contractor. Now suppose you're a contractor with a lot of friends. Do you think it will be difficult to convince some of your friends to write a few glowing reviews about you on Angie's List? There have been reports of a competitor posting a bad review of a contractor. Let's face it, the Internet allows for this kind of abuse. The Better Business Bureau is a serious organization, and you should search its records for the name of a prospective contractor.
  • Insist on a written contract. An oral contract isn't worth the paper it's written on. Have the contract reviewed by an attorney. The few bucks that you will spend in legal fees will be well worth it.
  • Ask if the contractor has ever been known by any other name, and put a statement to that effect right in the contract. You want to know if the smiling representative of a prospective contractor has ever been known as Snidely Whiplash, the Destroyer of Homes, Inc. It's easy to fold one corporation and start up a new one. This is known as changing names to protect the guilty.
  • ·The payment schedule. This is the most important part of the contract, and your lawyer will focus on it. Never sign a home improvement contract that has a small final payment at the end. You want the contractor to have an incentive to get the job done, and having a substantial final payment will ensure that the job gets finished.

Your exciting home improvement project should not end up in court. Follow the steps in this article and you will pop the cork on a bottle of champagne at the end of the job, rather than popping your own cork in anger.

Copyright ©2012 by Russell F. Moran

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    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 4 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Very practical hub. You offer many important tips which will help individuals to do their homework before making this important decision. I agree hiring a bad contractor can cause a lot of nightmares.

    • rfmoran profile image
      Author

      Russ Moran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Thanks for your comment

      Spartacus. May all Your

      projects be stress free.

    • furniturez profile image

      furniturez 4 years ago from Washington

      I can't stand those home contractors that take advantage of people... makes me sick!

    • watergeek profile image

      watergeek 4 years ago

      I've never had need to hire one, but friends have, and they've reported nearly all of those problems you mention. Good hub, rfmoran.

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