13 Ways to Prevent Getting Screwed When Hiring a Contractor

Go to a current job. A prospect should be proud to show off his work-in-progress.

Summer is the season Americans set aside to complete home renovations before the new school year starts. According to U.S. Census data, Americans spent $ 130 billion on remodeling projects in 2013, and that figure is expected to keep rising.

Maybe you’re ready to upgrade your kitchen or master bath. Maybe it’s time to convert that attic space or basement into a home office or den. Or maybe you have some upgrades to complete before you put your home up for sale.

Whatever the project, it’s important to land a reliable contractor. Here are 13 ways to select the best contractor and prevent getting screwed.

1. Third time’s the charm

You should interview at least three contractors and get three bids before making a final decision. Don’t automatically go with the guy your sister used for a completely different project. Angie’s List is a great resource to find contractors if you don’t have any word-of-mouth references.

2. Compare apples to apples

One of the biggest mistakes homeowners make when getting estimates from contractors is lack of consistency. Make sure you request a bid on the exact same work from each contractor. Don’t add tasks to different bids; it can get confusing, and you’ll never be able to make a fair comparison.

3. Callback turnaround

If you don’t hear back within 48 hours, forget them. You want someone who is responsive. If they don’t return a call promptly now, you can pretty much assume they’ll behave the same way when you’re mid-demolition. Not a pretty picture.

Set up interviews. If one doesn’t show, cross them off your list. Contractors and handymen are notoriously overbooked. If they can’t make the interview, you can imagine how they will be on your job.

4. Know their specialties

Find out what his or her specialties are. Residential rehab, commercial buildings, new construction, and kitchen renovations are all very different projects. You want your potential contractor’s expertise to match the job.

5. Get the skinny on the crew

How big is their staff or main crew? How many men work for them full time? Does he or she run an entire company, or are they an individual contractor?

6. Is “sub out” in their vocabulary?

Which jobs does your contractor “sub out”? Do they hire a subcontractor for the plumbing or electrical? What does the “in-house” crew do? If they’re subbing out all the big jobs, you may want to hire some of the subcontractors yourself to save on commissions.

7. Busy body

How many jobs does your contractor have going at the moment? The number of jobs the contractor is juggling is very important and directly related to how quickly your work will be finished. If your potential contractor owns a small company, you want to make sure they’re doing no more than four jobs at any given time.

8. Ask for (and call!) references

If a contractor stalls on getting references to you, there may be a reason.

9. Check out the work

Go to a current job. A prospect should be proud to show off his work-in-progress. Ask to look at other examples of his work. A contractor worth his salt will have before-and-after photos of his best jobs.

10. How close are they?

Look for contractors that are close to your job site. The closer they are, the more likely they will be there each day — and on time.

11. Experience counts

Interview only contractors who have been in business at least five years — and under one name. For example, if Joe’s Contracting Service had problems, it may resurface a year later as Joe’s AAA Contracting Service. That’s a major red flag you don’t want to deal with.

12. Insurance

Ask about both the general liability and workman’s comp certificates from each prospective contractor. Then call the insurance companies to make sure coverage is current.

13. If the city permits

Go to the city building department and see if there are any complaints against your prospective contractor. It’s an extra piece of legwork for you, but you’ll sleep soundly at night knowing the person working on your home sweet home is the best in the biz.

Have you learned any valuable lessons when hiring a contractor? Share in the comments!

Trulia’s Blog

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