How Stuff Works Has Advice on How to Make This Big Financial Decision
You can be informed and ask the right questions in order to avoid home improvement scams and low-quality work. You contractor should be someone who will answer your questions readily, and can demonstrate their commitment to ethical business, attention to detail, and customer satisfaction.
10: What’s your business history?
When you’re first getting into the process of hiring a contractor, you’ll want to dig deep to get an idea of his or her business history. This means requesting — and duly verifying — proof that he or she is currently state licensed in your area.
Other items to check up on include paying employees legally and carrying workers’ compensation, property damage and liability insurance. Find out if the contractor has ever declared bankruptcy or if anyone’s ever taken legal action against him or her. Get the specifics too, like how long he or she has been in business and under what names.
It’s important to confirm whether the contractor has any recent, relevant experience, so get a list of references who have had projects similar in scope to yours and follow up with them.
9: Who will be at the site and how will it be supervised?
It’s important to ascertain during the course of the interview how the contractor plans on handling site supervision and subcontractors.
Does the contractor have a work crew or does he intend to use subcontractors? You can protect yourself by asking the contractor, subcontractors and suppliers for lien releases or waivers upon each payment.
Further key questions center on work-site presence. Does the contractor plan on doing any of the actual labor, or is he or she mainly performing in a supervisory role? How often will the contractor be on-site, and who’ll be supervising during times when he or she isn’t there? A trustworthy and accountable presence should be on hand at all times.
8: Can you give me a timeline?
Before you hire a contractor, you should ask if he or she can provide you with a fixed start date and a completion date — including any cleanup duties. These dates should be included in the formal written agreement.
Determine the best way to stay in contact with the contractor so you can communicate any questions or concerns to him or her. Without proper communication — and documentation — your project might go from being a dream come true to a disaster.
7: What guarantees can you give me?
Warranties are a smart way to make sure you’ll leave the table happy. Hold off signing a contract until it includes everything you want — and that you understand all the terms and conditions.
Make sure the contractor guarantees he or she will complete all the necessary permits and approvals during the process.
6: What’s the bottom line?
Estimates that fall in the shallow end of the pool can be a red flag for a hasty job that won’t leave you with a quality finished product. If an estimate seems a good deal pricier than others, that could mean the other contractors were missing some core obstacle involved in completing the project and therefore didn’t set a high enough estimate for a proper job.
5: What’s your work routine like?
Having an understanding and expectation of a contractor’s routine is vital to your own happiness. What time do they start working? Do they work until the project is finished, or will they be working on multiple projects at a time? It’s also a good idea to inquire about what they do with leftover or waste materials. Will there be piles of timber in your backyard until April?
It’s not unreasonable to ask the contractor beforehand if you have a schedule you’d like them to keep, and let them know that you’ll be expecting regular progress reports. Once you have that schedule, take advice from the next page and get it in writing.
4: Can I get that in writing?
In the contract, have the details of the project carefully spelled out. What dates will they start? How long will it take? What permits are required to be pulled? And what, exactly, are you looking for in the project?
Be sure to include a broom clause in the contract, which legally requires them to do so.
It doesn’t hurt to put a liability release in writing and to make careful note of the materials that will be used, which will also allow you to see where your budget is being spent.
3: What do I have to put down?
Down payments are a tricky thing when it comes to renovation and home improvements. Sure, it’s certainly a sign of good faith for you to anchor your contractor with a bit of cash. But you also don’t want to foolishly place your money in the hands of someone who you can’t contact if, say, they never show up.
Don’t let your payments get well ahead of the work. However, many high quality contractors do expect materials to be paid for in advance of order.
2: So, who do I write this check to?
If the contractor has a business license yet they’re still asking for an individual check, it probably means that the contractor will not be reporting that income for taxes. If they don’t have a business license, you’ve now opened a whole can of worms. Not only are they unlicensed, but you’re essentially putting yourself at liability for any badly done work (or worse, any injuries sustained by the workers). In addition, you should never pay cash, which is impossible to track and is often requested by questionable contractors. Checks, loan financing and credit cards are typically much safer options.
1: Don’t Just Stop at the Contractor
While it’s important to ask the contractor about any permits needed, don’t think that due diligence after that isn’t required. Many cities and counties have online resources that will let the homeowner know what is required from renovation or construction projects. Use those materials to double check your contractor, or call the permit center and inquire about any necessary codes to follow.
Another important reason to double check permits with the city or county is that your homeowner’s insurance isn’t a fan of unpermitted work; if something does go wrong, the chances that they’ll cover your claim if the correct permits haven’t been pulled is very slim.
Bonus: How to Spot Shifty Contractors
- solicits business by going door to door
- prefers that you pay in cash
- uses high-pressure sales tactics to convince you to make a quick decision
- requests that you pay for the entire job upfront
- has the “perfect” lender for you (which often leads to home improvement loan scams)
Our company, Unique Properties, has a demonstrated history of completing quality work on time, on budget, and according to plan. Not only that but we pride ourselves on having good communication and positive relationships with our customers. Your contractor should be someone who is courteous and pleasant, as well as trustworthy. Call us today, and be sure to ask us the 10 questions on this page. 214-533-0716