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HOW TO HIRE A CONTRACTOR
HOW TO HIRE A CONTRACTOR

Whether you’re planning an addition for a growing family or simply getting new storm windows, finding a competent and reliable contractor is the first step to a successful and satisfying home improvement project.

Your home may be your most valuable financial asset. That’s why it’s important to be cautious when you hire someone to work on it. Home improvement and repair and maintenance contractors often advertise in newspapers, the Yellow Pages, and on the radio and TV. However, don’t consider an ad an indication of the quality of a contractor’s work. Your best bet is a reality check from those in the know: friends, neighbors, or co-workers who have had improvement work done. Get written estimates from several firms. Ask for explanations for price variations. Don’t automatically choose the lowest bidder.

Home Improvement Professionals

Depending on the size and complexity of your project, you may choose to work with a number of different professionals:

Don’t Get Nailed

Not all contractors operate within the law. Here are some tip-offs to potential rip-offs. A less than reputable contractor:

Hiring a Contractor

Interview each contractor you’re considering. Here are some questions to ask.

Checking References

Talk with some of the remodeler’s former customers. They can help you decide if a particular contractor is right for you. You may want to ask:

Understanding Your Payment Options

You have several payment options for most home improvement and maintenance and repair projects. For example, you can get your own loan or ask the contractor to arrange financing for larger projects. For smaller projects, you may want to pay by check or credit card. Avoid paying cash. Whatever option you choose, be sure you have a reasonable payment schedule and a fair interest rate. Here are some additional tips:

The "Home Improvement" Loan Scam

A contractor calls or knocks on your door and offers to install a new roof or remodel your kitchen at a price that sounds reasonable. You tell him you’re interested, but can’t afford it. He tells you it’s no problem — he can arrange financing through a lender he knows. You agree to the project, and the contractor begins work. At some point after the contractor begins, you are asked to sign a lot of papers. The papers may be blank or the lender may rush you to sign before you have time to read what you’ve been given to sign. You sign the papers. Later, you realize that the papers you signed are a home equity loan. The interest rate, points and fees seem very high. To make matters worse, the work on your home isn’t done right or hasn’t been completed, and the contractor, who may have been paid by the lender, has little interest in completing the work to your satisfaction.

You can protect yourself from inappropriate lending practices. Here’s how.

Don’t:

Getting a Written Contract

Contract requirements vary by state. Even if your state does not require a written agreement, ask for one. A contract spells out the who, what, where, when and cost of your project. The agreement should be clear, concise and complete. Before you sign a contract, make sure it contains:

Keeping Records

Keep all paperwork related to your project in one place. This includes copies of the contract, change orders and correspondence with your home improvement professionals. Keep a log or journal of all phone calls, conversations and activities. You also might want to take photographs as the job progresses. These records are especially important if you have problems with your project — during or after construction.

Completing the Job: A Checklist

Before you sign off and make the final payment, use this checklist to make sure the job is complete. Check that:

Where to Complain

If you have a problem with your home improvement project, first try to resolve it with the contractor. Many disputes can be resolved at this level. Follow any phone conversations with a letter you send by certified mail. Request a return receipt. That’s your proof that the company received your letter. Keep a copy for your files.

If you can’t get satisfaction, consider contacting the following organizations for further information and help:

Federal Trade Commission - The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them.

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