Finding the right local contractor

For many homeowners the most difficult part of any home renovation project isn’t the work itself, it’s finding a contractor to get the job done right, the first time! Installing kitchen cabinets, knocking down a wall or retiling the bathroom is simple compared with the struggle of hiring a quality contractor who will perform at a high level from start to finish.


I'm sure all of you have heard stories about horrible contractors who tore apart the kitchen and never returned or projects that cost five times the contractor’s original estimated price.

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“Those are the nightmare kind of stories I hear all the time,” says Angie Hicks, who started the company in 1995 that would become Angie’s List, which provides reviews of contractors and other service providers. Yelp is also a reliable source for consumer reviews, they verify all business and customer reviews for authenticity.

Choosing the right contractor for your needs can make the difference between a successful home renovation project and a complete disaster. But even for experienced renovators, finding the right contractor can be a challenge.

“It can be difficult to hire contractors and know what you’re getting,” Hicks says. “You’re spending a lot of money, and you’re dealing with your home. If they do it wrong, there can be a whole lot of heartache.”

If you’re doing a large scale project, you’ll need a general contractor, who, in turn, may hire subcontractors for specialty work such as plumbing and electrical. Homeowners with renovation experience sometimes work as their own general contractors, hiring specific tradespeople for each job. While this may save you money, it can be time-consuming and will mean multiple contractor searches instead of just one, since you’ll have to find a specialist for each smaller job.

Whichever way you go, there are steps you can take to find the right contractor while still keeping your budget – and your sanity – under control. Here are 11 tips to help you find a contractor who will get the job done right.

1.) You need to know exactly what you want before you start calling contractors. “Start with a plan and some ideas,” Hicks says. “Don’t start by talking to contractors.” You’ll get a more accurate estimate if you can be very specific in what you want done and the materials you would like to use to make it happen. This is the key to a successful line of communication between you and the contractor.

2.) Ask your friends, relatives and even co-workers for references. People in your neighborhood who have done similar projects are your best sources. If you know people in the building trades, ask them, too. Employees of local hardware stores may also be able to provide referrals. You should always try to support local business, especially small family companies. This boosts your local economy and generally smaller contractors are more personable.

3.) You should interview at least three contractors. Make sure you ask a lot of questions and get a written bid from each one. When you compare bids, be sure each one includes the same materials and the same tasks, this ensures the bids will be equal in quality. Even if you meet a contractor that you like, you should still get additional bids. Just remember, sometimes the cheapest route isn't always the best route. Be prepared to negotiate after you get the bid and before you sign the contract.

4.) A good contractor will be ready to start right away. “The best folks are the busy ones,” says Cannon Christian, president of Renovation Realty in San Diego, which remodels homes before they’re sold.

5.) Choose the right contractor for the job specific project. You want to find a company that routinely does the kind of project you want done. “You don’t want them to use you as a guinea pig,” Hicks says. For example, if you need concrete driveway repairs, you wouldn't call a general contractor, you would call a concrete contractor.

6.) Make sure you check licenses, and be sure too google their business name to make sure that there are no negative reviews. You should also check their Facebook page to make sure that there are no past disgruntled customers. If you want to do some extra digging you can check the disciplinary boards, Better Business Bureau and local court records for problems.

7.) Check their references. Talk to both clients and subcontractors, who can tell you if the contractor pays them on time. Contractor background checks are becoming increasingly more popular, but can get expensive.

8.) Read online reviews, do some snooping! Yelp and Google have verification measures in place to deter inauthentic reviews. Read the reviews carefully to be sure the contractor is the right person for your job.

9.) Don't forget to read the contract,  make sure the contract spells out all of the details of the job, including deadlines, progress payments, the exact materials that will be used.. “If you don’t have it documented, it’s your word against theirs,” Hicks says. If the contractor’s contract isn't detailed enough, you can write your own contract, just make sure it's legally binding. It's rather to be safe than sorry! Any change in the project, whether you change your mind about products or ask for additional projects, should generate a written change order that includes the new work, materials and cost.

10.) Make sure you find out what permits will be required before the contractor is hired. Almost all home renovation projects require permits, the only exceptions being concrete work. Some questionable companies, as well as some licensed contractors, will suggest that you don't necessarily need to obtain the permits. Not only can that violate local ordinances and subject you to fines if you’re caught, it means the work will not be inspected by the city or county to make sure it’s up to code.

11.) The last and final tip - Don’t issue the final payment until the job is 100% finished. Contractors are notorious for finishing most of the job and then moving on before they get to the final details. Don’t make the final payment until you are completely 100% satisfied with the work, but don't be unreasonable either, pay the contractor as soon as possible if you are happy with their work! Remember, they do this for a living to support their families and they depend on the money to keep their business running.






Tags:Choosing the right contractor, contractor contracts, local contractors,
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