Choosing a Contractor Checklist for Home Improvement Projects

Some homeowners stress a lot more about finding the right contractor for their home improvement project than about the actual work. That can make sense if you’ve had bad experiences with contractors before. You’re going to spend a lot of money, and they’re going to change an area you live in every day. You want to guarantee they’ll do an outstanding job.

How to choose a contractor?

Get your renovation started right by using this checklist for choosing a contractor.

#1. First decide what you want

Don’t even talk to contractors until you’ve made your own home improvement plan. Pick your major ideas, goals, and materials. Then, when you start interviewing contractors, you’ll have a better idea with ones fit your plan.

#2. Ask for referrals from people you trust

Someone you know has worked with a good local contractor. Ask your extended family, friends, co-workers, hardware store staff, and other acquaintances for referrals. Local contractors are often best because they understand your area’s building codes and are easy to get in touch with.

#3. Choose the right type of contractor

For different types of projects, you might hire:

  • A general contractor: organizes and manages everything involved in a project
  • A specialty contractor: installs certain items like fixtures and cabinets
  • An architect: designs buildings and renovations
  • A combination designer-contractor: can both design and execute the design

Decide what you really need and find someone who has the experience to fit the job.

#4. Interview three or more contractors

Ask as many questions as you need to about each contractor’s:

  • Methods
  • The history of their business
  • Expected timelines
  • Materials
  • Similar projects they’ve finished recently
  • Practice for dividing work between their employees and subcontractors

You need a lot of information, so you can be sure you’re comparing them fairly using the same standards of timelines, materials, methods, and so on.

#5. Check their licenses and insurance

Depending on your state and region, your contractor and their subcontractors may be required to have licenses or registrations, which you can request to see. You can also ask to see the contractor’s insurance policies, such as workers’ compensation, personal liability, and property damage coverage.

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#6. Check online reviews and offline references

Read online reviews on sites that make sure reviewers are real customers, such as Angie’s List. Google a contractor’s name alongside words like “complaint,” “scam,” and “problems.” It’s best, though, to ask contractors for a list of their customers and talk to the most recent ones about their experience. If you want, ask subcontractors how the contractor treats them.

#7. Ask about permits

If a contractor wants you to take care of building permits yourself, he or she is probably not right for you, because contractors should handle permits for customers. If a contractor suggests completely skipping permits to save money, you should definitely move on.

#8. Ask if they offer financing

Ask each contractor if they offer financing options, which can help you start your project faster. Many professional contractors have relationships with good banks, and you’ll probably be able to see if referring clients to them is a normal part of the contractor’s business.

#9. Get it in writing

The final step in choosing a contractor is to get a clear, detailed contract written up, which usually will include the following sections (and often more):

  • The estimated beginning and end dates
  • Guarantees
  • A clear description of every part of the project
  • A schedule of fees, which may include progress payments
  • A cancellation clause
  • A list of materials, which can be extremely specific
  • Your signature and the contractor’s signature

Use this choosing a contractor checklist before you start your next home renovation project, and you should find a great contractor. He or she will probably be booked solid, so you’ll have to wait for a few weeks or even months, but you’ll save yourself the risk of working with someone you regret choosing.

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