Choosing remodeling contractors

Whether you’re planning a new kitchen or bathroom, an addition for a growing family or simply getting new storm windows, choosing a remodeling contractor that’s competent and reliable is the first step to a successful and satisfying home improvement project. Hiring a good contractor is not as simple as making a phone call and picking the first person to call back. Most homeowners find that home improvement companies vary widely in terms of cost, professionalism, availability, and expertise in your particular area.

Taking the time to research and choose the right contractor can easily save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars and countless headaches. Here are some guidelines to remember:

Always get at least 3 estimates on any project. You'll be surprised at how two contractors can bid the same project for completely different prices. Be sure they are drafting the proposal on the same scope and quality of work. Remember to "compare apples to apples, and oranges to oranges."

Ask to SEE a copy of the contractors license and certificate of insurance. Most states require a contractor to carry worker's compensation, property damage and personal liability insurance, but many contractors still don't have it or have let their policy lapse. If they don't have the necessary coverage, you could be held liable for an injured employee or damage to a neighbors home caused by the contractor.

Always investigate local references. Don't be afraid to call them and ask specific questions like: "Were you satisfied with the work?" "Did they start and finish on time?" "Was there ample communication between the contractor and homeowner?" Often, a contractor will think he did a great job on project and use the customer as a reference, although the customer feels differently about the job.

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 advertise in the Yellow Pages including our online version, in newspapers, and on the radio and TV.

However, don’t consider any 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.

Most Importantly — Ask yourself, "Do I feel comfortable working with this person for the duration of the project?" The key to a successful relationship with your contractor and a successful project is communication. If you don't feel comfortable communicating with this person, it is likely that problems could arise.

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