Top 5 Things to Ask When Choosing a Contractor
Have you seen Citibank’s hilarious advertising campaign featuring a contractor chatting with his homeowner clients in their kitchen? (If not you can check it out here.) I chuckle every time I see it, not just because it is so funny, but because it confirms everything homeowners (and contractors!) fear about the home improvement process.
But the reality is, if those scenarios played out in your life, you wouldn’t be laughing. Because for most of us, our home is not just where we spend the majority of our lives, it also represents our single biggest investment. So, it makes sense to make sure the folks you have working on that investment are reputable and the right fit for you.
Here are our top five recommendations of things to ask when choosing a contractor for your kitchen remodel or any home improvement job:
1. Check the contractor’s licenses and insurance:
My home state of Massachusetts has two licenses (HIC and CSL) which come into play depending on the type of work you are having done – but requirements differ from state to state. Some states require that a contractor only be registered; other states require contractors to pass a test to receive a license. You can check out the status of the requirements in your state here. This is the first step to ensuring you are hiring the right person for the job.
All contractors should carry professional insurance to protect against accidents that may happen on the job. Specifically, according to the FTC, contractors should have:
- personal liability
- worker’s compensation
- property damage coverage
And you should ask for proof of coverage in the form of copies of their insurance certificates, so you can make sure they’re current, or you could be held liable for any injuries and damages that occur during the project.
2. Contact their references:
Ask you contractor for a list of past customers that you can call – and then call them! You should preferably ask for folks who have had work done that is comparable to what you are having done (it doesn’t always help to speak with someone who had a basement remodeled if you are putting on a major addition). Of course, no business person worth their salt is going to offer up a negative reference, but you can ask smart questions to get beyond the basics. For example, questions like “what was the worst thing about the process?” or “if you could change one thing, what would it be”? may elicit information beyond “everything was great.”
3. Google the company name and the individual’s name:
After you hear what a contractor’s hand-picked references have to say (let’s face it no one is going to list a problem client), then it’s time to hit the internet – the great equalizer. These days it’s nearly impossible for pros with poor business practices to hide. With review sites like Google, Yelp, Angie’s List, Facebook and the Better Business Bureau, it is easy to do a quick check to see what others might be saying. You can google the company name and “scam” or “complaint” to see if anything comes up – you may stumble upon an old news piece if there are any scandals or court cases lurking in their past.
4. Ask for a sample contract:
By Massachusetts’ law, any home improvement contract over the amount of $1,000 must be in writing and if a contractor doesn’t provide a written contract, his/her registration can be suspended or revoked and they can be fined. Check with your state to see what the rules are – but regardless of what is mandatory, you should insist on a written contract. And any pro worth their salt will insist on one as well because a written contract is like a good pre-nup. It protects both of you by spelling out exactly what the contractor has agreed to do for the price you have agreed to pay and will be the document that mediators or lawyers will rely on to determine who is in the right, should something go wrong. You can see a sample contract offered by the state of Massachusetts with all the required protective language to use as a benchmark here.
5. Spend some time getting to know them:
Seems like a no-brainer, I know, but many folks are wowed by fancy presentations or low prices and this basic issue often gets overlooked. The reality is when you are undertaking a large project, you are picking a person you will need to feel comfortable having in your house at all hours of the day for months. They (and their team – don’t forget to ask about them!) will almost become part of the family – and let’s face it, the last thing you need is another annoying relative. Spend some time to make sure your personalities mesh before you sign the contract. And it would be a good time to ask if the person selling the job is the one who will be at your job site – you don’t want to hire Tim because you hit it off, only to find out Joe is running your job.
Armed with the right knowledge, you can feel confident choosing a contractor for your next job! For more advice, get our comprehensive contractor checklist in our resource library.
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