Seven things to know before choosing a contractor

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

You’ve probably heard horror stories of home projects left unfinished by a contractor who turns out not to be able to do the work he promised, or who leaves town and leaves you with a mess. If you’re planning on hiring a contractor, here are seven things you need to know to make sure your project goes just as planned.

1.  Get a referral.

The best way to ensure success on your home project is to find a friend who loved the work done by a contractor, and contact that contractor. If you don’t know anyone who’s used a contractor, contact the Better Business Bureau or your state’s attorney general’s office. If you’re still at a loss, use the phone book, but be sure to ask a lot of questions.

2.  Screen possible contractors first.

Before someone comes to your home, you should ask several questions on the phone. First, you’ll want to make sure they offer the service you need. Then, you should ask if they provide free estimates (this is common). Also, find out if they have liability insurance, worker’s compensation and a license. And find out if they are a part of a professional association.

3.  Talk to at least three contractors for estimates.

You’ll want to get estimates in writing. And you definitely want to make sure you have time to make the right decision, so don’t let anyone sell you on the spot. Price isn’t everything, so when considering estimates, examine exactly what the estimate is for. Make sure you know what you’ll be getting in the end.

4. Take notes.

When you’re speaking to a contractor, make sure to write down the answers to your questions. Use separate pieces of paper for each contractor, so you can compare the answers after you’ve talked to at least three contractors. If you don’t understand something, ask questions until you do. It’s better to really know what someone is saying and feel a little silly asking a question than to be surprised later.

5. Meeting with a potential contractor.

Ask to see documentation of licenses, insurance and worker’s comp. Also ask for a written estimate. Ask to see examples of similar projects the contractor has worked on. For exterior work, get addresses, so you can see the work for yourself. Don’t just look at pictures. Ask to speak to people the contractor has worked for in the past. When speaking to a contractor, be specific about what you want. Discuss bids in detail with each contractor to make sure you understand the work the contractor is basing his estimate on.

6. Investigate.

Call the insurance company to make sure the policy is still active. Check with the Better Business Bureau, the attorney general’s office, the state licensing board and the chamber of commerce. Make sure you call references and speak to the people who have had work done on their homes. You’ll want to find out how long the contractor has been in the business, what complaints have been filed, and responsiveness to those complaints.

7. Making the right choice.

Once you have three contractors who are reputable, how do you choose? You’ll want to consider the contractor’s experience, warranty and accessibility. And you’ll want to take into account who made you feel comfortable and took the time to answer questions and helped you to understand the process.


Warning signs (breakout)

Cold calls: Good contractors don’t have to go door-to-door to get new business.

Building permits: The contractor should handle getting all building permits. A contractor who asks you to get them might not have the proper licenses and might not want to deal with the local agency that issues permits.

Applies pressure: Contractors should allow you time to compare estimates and make a wise decision. Don’t sign something the first time you meet a contractor.

Payment: If a contractor demands payment for the entire job up-front or asks for payment in cash, that’s a problem. You should pay by credit card or check so that you have proof of payment. No payment should be made until a contractor has started working on your home. Then, only pay up to a third of the total amount due. And make sure future payments are contingent upon certain work being completed.

Source: Better Business Bureau