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!) hate 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 your investment are reputable and the right fit for you. Maison Mass can help.
Here are our top five recommendations of things to ask a contractor when you are considering them for your job:
- Check the contractor’s licenses: Massachusetts has two licenses which come into play depending on the type of work you are having done:
- Construction Supervisor License: For new construction jobs (including modular homes), the person you hire must have a Construction Supervisor License (CSL). The CSL requires pros to have past experience and pass a comprehensive exam. CSLs are also required to complete 12 hours of continuing education in order to renew their licenses (every two years). You can check on a CSL license here (choose “building” under Profession and “construction supervisor” under Type).
- Home Improvement Contractor License: For contractors doing work on existing homes, MA does not require a Construction Supervisor License but does require that they register with the State. This requirement was made as part of a law passed in 1992 that protects homeowners from home improvement fraud (The Home Improvement Contractor Law). You can check on a contractor’s Home Improvement Contractor (HIC)License here. Note that having a CSL does not preclude a contractor from needing his HIC license if he is engaging in remodeling work.
- Check 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.”
- 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. Plus you may stumble upon an old news piece if there are any scandals or court cases lurking in the past.
- Ask for a sample contract: By Massachusetts’ law, any home improvement contract over the amount of $1,000 must be in writing. If a contractor doesn’t provide a written contract, his/her registration can be suspended or revoked and they can be fined. A written contract is like a good pre-nup. It protects 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. You can see a sample contract offered by the State with all the required protective language here.
- 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. 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.
I’ve worked with many terrific contractors and tradespeople over the years and all of them would give you the same advice. Best of luck with your search!
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