How To : Home Improvement

Hiring a Contractor

Whether building a new home or renovating an old one, choose your contractor carefully. Start by writing your project down, including a floor-plan sketch. Ask friends, family and neighbours about good and bad contractors. Select several contractors and arrange to meet with them. During the meeting, ask each of them:

  • How long have they been in business
  • What experience have they with projects such as yours
  • Their registration numbers for trade associations, the Better Business Bureau, Workers' Compensation and private liability insurance

Reputable contractors will gladly answer these questions. Avoid those who balk.

Have the contractor supply at least three references. Ask these former clients about their experiences and, if possible, visit their projects for a first-hand look. Ask your local Better Business Bureau if there have been complaints and how the contractor handled them.

A major project may require professionally drawn plans. Instead of hiring an expensive architect, pay one prospective contractor to draw them. Then you'll own the plans outright and can show them to other bidders. Welcome suggestions. An experienced contractor may have good ideas you never thought of.

Each estimate should state prices for labour, materials (including brand and model names where applicable), and all other expenses. It should also describe the warranty. Don't necessarily choose the lowest bid. Ensure that yours includes:

  • The contractor's name, address and telephone number, along with registration numbers of the firm's operating licence, memberships in trade associations or the Better Business Bureau and Workers' Compensation. Also include details of private liability insurance coverage. You could be held liable if insurance doesn't cover an injured worker. If subcontractors are involved, the contract should list similar information for them.
  • A detailed listing of the work to be done and all products to be used. The contract could specify either a set price, to which the contractor is committed regardless of unforeseen complications, or a cost price, which allows the contractor to charge extra for such problems.
  • An hourly rate for labour. This is most important in a cost-price contract, but is also necessary in a set-price contract, in case you decide to change the plan after work has begun.
  • A schedule for payments. Pay only a nominal deposit before work has begun. Then, arrange for payments as work progresses. Avoid scheduling payments for predetermined calendar dates. Instead, pay as each stage is completed.

Never sign a partial or blank contract. Any later changes should be added in writing and signed by both parties. During the project, deal directly with the contractor rather than the tradespeople. Handle problems as they arise and be reasonable. Be considerate of the contractor's needs, such as parking space for work vehicles.

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