Are you planning home repairs or renovations? If so, you’ll likely need a contractor – and finding one who has the right skill set and is reliable might just be the toughest part of the project. Almost everyone has heard horror stories about unscrupulous or unskilled contractors, so how do you successfully navigate this hurdle?
Have a plan. A specific, written plan that outlines the project helps you identify the types of skills that will be needed. For example, if you are renovating your bathroom, you may need a contractor who specializes in tile versus one who installs windows. A plan will also serve as the basis of conversation with the contractors you interview so you can be clear about your project goals.
Use your network. Friends, neighbors, relatives, and colleagues can be a good source of recommendations. So can employees at the local hardware store or the big-box building supply store.
Look on review sites. Yelp, Angie’s List, and Google can be helpful but should not be your only source of information – always check references. A lack of reviews for an established business is not always a red flag, but it can be. Be aware that litigation-savvy contractors may stipulate as part of the settlement that the unhappy customers cannot leave a negative review for their services.
Interview several candidates. Provide them with your plan and discuss it in detail. Develop a list of questions and use it with each contractor so you can compare responses. Get estimates in writing and require a list of materials and brand names they plan to use. This allows you to check the material costs independently. Ask them to outline the specific tasks they feel are necessary so you can compare plans and costs.
Check credentials. Ask for a copy of the company’s business license and contractor’s license. If the contractor will have subcontractors working on portions of your project, get the subcontractors’ information too.
Check complaint, disciplinary, and litigation history. The Better Business Bureau, your state’s disciplinary board, and local court records are good sources for finding important information. It may seem like overkill, but if you plan to spend tens of thousands of dollars, a little time spent on a background check is a small price to pay for information that lets you avoid major trouble.
Make sure the contractor has business insurance. Your homeowners policy most likely won’t cover damage caused by “workmanship, repair, construction, renovation, remodeling” or as a result of “materials used in repair, construction, renovation, or remodeling.” Get a copy of the contractor’s insurance policy so you know what it covers. A contractor who does not have business insurance is not one you want working on your home.
Check references. Ask for contact information for both former and current customers to see how consistent the contractor’s behavior is. It doesn’t hurt to ask local building supply companies and subcontractors about the contractor’s professional conduct. Does he pay on time? How does he treat his colleagues? Do other building trade professionals want to work with him?
Don’t automatically accept the lowest bid. Don’t mistake price for value; sometimes, you really do get what you pay for.
Ask to see a sample contract. It should cover materials (including the brand name and model number), tasks, deadlines, subcontractors, material disposal, etc. It should also include the action of getting the necessary permits. It’s a big red flag if the contractor suggests that you don’t need a permit or that you should be the one to get it. The party who requests a work permit is the one responsible for ensuring that the work complies with local codes. If you get the permit, you become responsible for the contractor’s work. In any event, obtaining permits is part of what the contractor’s fees cover.
Our Risk Coaches™ are licensed insurance professionals who are trained to look at coverage from your perspective. They’re glad to help you navigate the often-perplexing world of insurance coverage. Contact your local Risk Coach professional or call us at 800.342.5342, Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET.