Remodeling Tips: How to Find a Reliable Home Contractor

In July 2004, my husband and I decided to have a deck built in back of our home, as well as have all new windows installed. Although my husband can be quite the handy man, we thought we’d save ourselves the time and the troubles that can come with taking on such a large project and hire a professional. We were excited about getting the projects started and couldn’t wait to see the finished product. Little did we know we were setting ourselves up for a mountain of headaches and months of frustrations.

Our experience was horrible, to say the least. Although we interviewed several contractors, avoided the inconsistent bid, and checked to see that our contractor was properly licensed, we were still extremely disappointed with the quality of the work and the lack of communication. Our contractor was not only extremely slow, working an average of a couple hours per day (if he showed up at all), but he would also seem to disappear for weeks on end. Phone calls were only returned when we threatened to hire someone else to complete the job, and the proper permits were not even pulled with the town. A job that was expected to take three weeks took over two months to complete, and in the end, even though he on only had a few minor finishing touches left, we ended up firing him.

Finding a reputable, responsible contractor can be near impossible these days. The stories of unfinished or heavily delayed projects certainly seem to outweigh those with happy endings. So how do you go about finding the right person for the job? How can you be sure they are dependable and trustworthy? And what do you do if you run into problems?

One of the best ways to find a reliable contractor is through word of mouth. Most contractors rely on this form of advertising and therefore you often won’t find many listings in phonebook. Have your friends/neighbors/family members had any work done recently? Talk to them about the person who did the work and ask about their experience. Take a ride around town and look for homes with work being done. Contractors will often post a sign in someone’s yard when they are working on a project. Good references are an excellent way to decide if a contractor is the right person for the job.

Do your homework ahead of time and find about the laws governing home contractors in your state. Here in Connecticut, our state’s Department of Consumer Protection ( www.ct.gov/dcp ) is an excellent resource for choosing the right contractor as well as dealing with contractors who either complete jobs improperly, or simply don’t complete them at all. Check to see whether or not your contractor is required to have a license to perform work, and, if so, you’ll want to make sure his license is valid and hasn’t expired. Often there are laws that protect consumers from being taken advantage of, but these laws will apply only if the contractor is a licensed professional registered with the state. Also, be sure to check and see if any complaints have been filed against the contractor by other consumers who were unhappy with their work. Of course, any contractor with a complaint record should not be considered.

Inquire about other projects the contractor may be currently working on. A contractor that takes on too much work at once is going to have a difficult time completing your project in a timely manner. Also ask about work that was previously done. Some contractors can provide you with photographs of work they’ve done for other homeowners.

After you’ve decided on your contractor, a contract or written agreement of some sort should be signed. This should include pertinent information about the work that is to be performed, as well as the costs associated with the job. Also, be sure to ask the contractor to include information about a start and end date on the project. Incorporate a clause in the contract which indicates that if the work is not finished one week past the completion date listed in the contract, then the contractor will deduct a percentage from the original cost of the job. Any contractor that does not agree to include this clause is obviously not confident about the time frame in which he can complete the work you’ve requested.

Once the work has begun, be sure to keep the lines of communication open at all times. Be available to discuss the progress of the project with your contractor and, if possible, be home when the work is taking place. If you have to be at work, try to stop by on your lunch hour or leave early one afternoon and see exactly what’s going on while you’re not around. Our neighbors kept an eye on things for us when we couldn’t be here, and they were an excellent resource. We were often able to find out when our contractor was showing up, how long he was working, and what was taking place while we were not home.

Although we felt we had done many things right when hiring a contractor to work for us, it was clear that my husband and I hadn’t done enough research to deal with the problems we encountered. Unfortunately, it took an unpleasant and frustrating experience to educate us about how to protect ourselves. There are plenty of honest, hard-working individuals in the home contracting business who have excellent reputations and have made a good name for themselves. By planning ahead, doing some research, and choosing wisely, you can ensure that you’ll be hiring the right person that can make all your remodeling dreams become a reality.

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