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Home Improvement Contractor Guide

 
building contractor - carpenter Do you have a home improvement project in mind?  Sometimes the most difficult part of completing your project is finding the right contractor to start it.  When it comes to home improvement and home remodeling, finding reputable building tradespeople can mean the difference between a good experience and a bad one.

That's right — finding a competent and reliable contractor is an important step to achieving a successful and gratifying home improvement project.  While many of us discuss home improvement and remodeling projects with our families, friends, and co-workers, it is sometimes possible to obtain more information from other sources such as Angie's List and Home Advisor.  These services maintain extensive databases of prescreened designers, construction professionals, and tradespeople who have designed or built construction projects and who have been rated and reviewed by their customers.  Angie's List includes detailed member reviews about companies in more than 700 categories.  Home Advisor strives to help homeowners connect with qualified home service professionals in their local area.  Both services can help you locate a wide range of design and construction professionals including local architects, remodelers, and interior decorators.

Choosing a Contractor

plumbing contractor - plumber Would you choose a surgeon without interviewing several and thinking long and hard about which one to choose?  While home improvement isn't exactly a life-or-death matter, choosing the wrong contractor can be a hassle and cost you lots of money.  And who wants that?

So how do you choose a contractor?  You can talk to family and friends about contractors they have worked with, making sure to get at least four or five solid recommendations.  If you don't have time for this process, you can enlist the services of a company that will find you a prescreened contractor.  With these contractors, most of the work has been done for you.  The organization you contract with can find just the right contractor for your needs, and you don't need to go through the hassle of interviewing multiple contractors.  Recommendations have been taken care of, and you can be somewhat assured that these contractors are reputable.  In addition, some contractor matching services check that the contractors they represent have all the necessary licenses and bonding required by your state.

In order for these services to match you with the right contractor, you'll need to tell them the important details regarding your project, including its size, scope, and budget, and when you would like to start.  For this initial conversation, you should be prepared to spend at least 15 or 20 minutes talking about your project and answering questions.

electrical contractor - electrician The prescreened contractor service will probably connect you with several contractors who will suit your project needs.  Now it's time to choose one.  Set up a time to meet with each contractor, to give them a tour of your home and show them what you would like to do.  This is a good time to show the contractor your construction document.  The contractor should ask lots of questions at this meeting, which will help him determine his bid.

Once you have met with several contractors, you will want to compare their bids.  In order to best compare, ask each candidate to itemize cost for labor, materials, overhead, and profit.  As a general rule, the profit margin should be in the 10 to 20 percent range, and the overhead shouldn't be more than five or 10 percent of the total.

The Contract

Once you've selected your contractor, it's time to deal with the contract terms.  Depending upon the company you work with, your contractor matching service may have a standard contract, or each contractor may supply their own.  Regardless, good contracts have several things in common.

Remember, the more detailed your contract is, the more protected you are if something should go awry.  The contractor's name, license number, and all contact information should be front and center on your contract.  The project start and completion dates, as well as any rules pertaining to extensions or delays, should be included, as should a complete set of blueprints.

roofing contractors - roofers A detailed list of all materials and their cost should be provided, as should the payment schedule.  A good contract includes all insurance and liability paperwork, as well as subcontractor lien releases.  This means that should the contractor not pay his subcontractors, the homeowner isn't responsible.  Warranties for workmanship should be included, as well as procedures for change orders.  Other details that might be needed, such as start and quitting times, where the workers should park and eat their lunch, and whether they are allowed to use your telephone or bathroom, can also be included.

Finally, one of the most important pieces of information in a contract is a plan outlining how to resolve any disputes that may happen, as well as what situations would allow for the termination of the contract.

PrescreenedContractors.us provides access to home remodeling and home improvement information resources from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), as well as to the Service Magic contractor matching service.

Home Improvement Consumer Information

  • Home Improvement:  Tools You Can Use
    Until early 2007, the Federal Trade Commission website featured a page entitled "Home Improvement:  Tools You Can Use," which listed several tips for hiring a contractor.  In summary, these tips were as follows:  (1) Get "word-of-mouth" contractor referrals from friends, neighbors, and co-workers.  (2) Contact trade organizations such as the National Association of Home Builders or a local Builder Association for the names of members in your area.  (3) Check out the contractor with state or local consumer protection officials.  (4) Ask the contractor for customer references with projects similar to yours.  (5) Request a copy of the contractor's current insurance certificates and licenses.  (6) Obtain written estimates from several firms, and be sure the bids are based on identical project specs.  (7) Get all guarantees, warranties, and promises in writing.  (8) Ensure that agreed-upon start and completion dates are written into the contract.
    www.FTC.gov
  • Home Sweet Home Improvement
    Advice on finding a competent and reliable contractor, from the Federal Trade Commission.  Your home is a valuable asset, so be cautious when hiring someone to work on it.  Home improvement firms and repair and maintenance contractors advertise in newspapers, in Yellow Pages directories, in magazines, on radio and TV, and on the Internet.  But don't rely on advertising as an indication of a contractor's reputation or craftsmanship quality.  Talk to friends, neighbors, and co-workers who have had home improvements or renovations done within the last few years.  Obtain written estimates from several companies.  Explore the reasons for price variations, and don't automatically choose the lowest bidder.
    www.FTC.gov
  • NARI
    National Association of the Remodeling Industry features a series of informative articles for home owners.  For instance, NARI offers a helpful page entitled "Selecting a Professional" as well as a Home Owners Guide that covers remodeling contractor selection issues.
    www.NARI.org

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