HIRING A CONTRACTOR
Choosing the right contractor is the most important decision you will make in your project. Here is how Consumer Reports recommends you choose a contractor:
Plan for success. Get three bids to gauge the going rate for work. But don't jump at the lowest bid; our surveys have shown that people who hired the lowest bidder generally got poorer work.
Get an estimate. It should list product, material, and labor costs and a timetable. Material and product allowances should give prices and quantities. Compare services and prices before making a final decision.
Choose pros you know. Our surveys have indicated that people who hire contractors they had worked with before were happier and had fewer time and cost overruns than those who hired someone new. While readers who hired pros recommended by a friend or neighbor were more satisfied than those who hired strangers, they faced as many delays and extra costs.
Get references from recent and older jobs. Reputable contractors will be happy to provide names and contact information for satisfied customers. Then check the work to see how it’s holding up.
Look for proper licensing and insurance. Make sure the contractor is licensed to do business in your state and that he has proper general liability and workers-compensation insurance. Check with your local government for permit requirements and confirm with the contractor who is responsible for paying for permits. Also visit the Contractor's License Reference Site to learn about licensing requirements in your state and to find out if a contractor is licensed.
Check the Better Business Bureau for filed complaints. Also contact your state's attorney general's office. Look for contact information in your state here. (Should you encounter a problem or fraud later on, report problems or fraud to your state attorney general.)
Obtain a contract. A written contract will specify what will be done to complete the job, associated costs, and the payment schedule. Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces.
Stick with the plans. Making changes to plans after work begins could lead to cost overruns and delays.
Pay by check. Write out the check to the contracting company rather than to an individual. A reasonable down payment is 30 percent of the total project cost to be paid upon initial delivery of materials. Make final payments only when the work is completed to your satisfaction. A reputable contractor will not threaten you or pressure you to sign documents if the job is not finished properly.
Steven H. Saltzman