Hiring a Home Contractor? Read this first!

The Many Types of Home Contractors

Home improvement professionals vary. Who you hire will depend largely on the size and complexity of your project. What follows is a brief description of the different contractors who do work for homeowners:

  • General contractors: They manage all facets of the project, including hiring and supervising subcontractors, obtaining building permits, scheduling inspections, and working with architects and designers.
  • Specialty contractors: Those who install products, such as cabinets, bathroom fixtures, and bookshelves.
  • Architects: They design homes, additions, and major renovations.
  • Design/build contractors: They offer one-stop service and will see your project through from start to finish.

Guidelines for Finding a Contractor

When selecting a contractor, use caution. Your home is your most valuable financial asset and you will want someone who completes the job, not botch it up. It is important that you find a competent and reliable contractor who will successfully complete your home improvement project.

Here are some steps you can take:

  • Avoid the Yellow Pages. Check with family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers for recommendations. 
  • Contact local trade organizations, such as the local Builder Association or Remodelors Council, for the names of members in your area.
  • Deal only with licensed contractors. The state licensing board and local Better Business Bureau also can tell you if there are any outstanding complaints against the license holder. 
  • Interview each contractor, request free estimates, if possible, and ask for recent references. Make sure bids are based on similar project specifications. Do not automatically settle for the lowest bid.
  • Ask for proof of workers' compensation insurance and obtain policy and insurance company phone numbers so you can verify the information. If the contractor is not covered, you could be liable for any work-related injury that takes place during the project. Also check to make sure the contractor has an umbrella general liability policy.

Ways to Save on Contractor Costs

Chances are you will need to pay the going rate for contractors in your area. Architects or designers will typically cost 12 to 20 percent more.

But remember you will want a home improvement that is done right the first time. However, there are still ways you can save if you do decide to work with a contractor: 

  • Shop around for the most reasonable bid, not necessarily the cheapest. 
  • Ask friends and family if the contractors they refer stayed within budget. 
  • Root out hidden costs written into contracts. 
  • Insist that trade discounts on materials be passed on to you, or buy materials yourself.
  • Compare payment alternatives, such as flat vs. hourly rates, and negotiate the more reasonable of the two.
  • Do part of the project yourself, such as disassembly or prep work.

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