Considering a home improvement project or energy-efficiency upgrade? Finding the right contractor is important; a project that has gone wrong can cost you. And, a good advertisement doesn't mean that a contractor can do the work. By asking the right questions and doing your homework, you can save time and money.
1. Starting your search. Check with family or friends who have used a contractor. Take a look at the work completed and ask about their experience. Look at sites, such as Angie's List that post ratings and reviews. Search Find a Professional Contractor from the Air Conditioning Contractors of America for a list of home comfort professionals in your area. For remodeling or renovations, search the directory of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry for member contractors.
2. Ask questions. Once you've assembled a list of prospects, contact each one and ask the following questions:
- How many years has your company been in business?
- How many projects have you completed in the last year and how many will you have going at the same time?
- Do you use subcontractors? If so, how long have you worked with them?
- What types of insurance do you carry (liability, workers' compensation)?
- Can you provide a list of previous clients as references?
- What licenses or certifications do you have?
The answers to these and other questions should give you valuable information about the contractor's experience, qualifications, and reliability.
3. Do your research. Select a list of candidates and follow up by contacting references and asking them about the contractor's performance. Check with your state consumer protection agency or local Better Business Bureau for information about any past complaints or problems. Contact your state licensing agency to make sure the contractor is licensed appropriately.
4. Compare estimates. You've narrowed your list to two or three contractors that appear to be experienced and reliable. Now, it's time to get written, itemized estimates and compare them. The estimate should include all work to be completed and a break down of all expenses, such as labor and materials. Don't just take the lowest bid. Choose the offer that you feel most comfortable with, and the one that matches both your budget and your goals.
5. Get it in writing. Sign a written contract before the work begins. The contract should include details such as the start date and estimated time of completion, payment schedule, warranties and proof of insurance, as well as products and materials to be used. While your contract may include items specific to your project, make sure you have a clear, detailed proposal that is understood by both parties. Remember to withhold final payment until the project has been completed to your satisfaction.
Pass it on
Did you use friends or family, or trusted online sites to find your contractor? If so, you can help others. Report your experiences, good or bad. This information will be valuable to other homeowners looking to save energy, increase comfort, or improve their living space.