This came up on the forum the other day and I think it is worth repeating here in the blog.
Seven Steps to Hiring a Contractor
1) Get a referral from someone you know. In fact, I'll bet you know several people that have done remodels in the last few years that could offer up some opinions on local contractors; good and bad. I got some names from friends plus I used several contractor referral services that match contractors to you in your area based on your criteria. They are listed under Contractor Referral Services on the Contractors Used page.
2) Hire a contractor who specializes in the type of work you need done. Someone you hire to install wood flooring or to build a deck should be a carpentry contractor, while someone you hire to install recessed lighting in your kitchen should be an electrician. There are many different trade certifications, so be sure to check the title on your contractor’s certification to make sure he or she is a specialist.
3) Check licenses and insurance with your city’s Contractor Licensing Board. Ask the tradesman for copies of the Contractor’s Certification, Worker’s Compensation status and Liability Insurance certificate. A reputable contractor will have no problem providing copies of these documents. In some areas, you may also be able to get this information online. I know that I could see all of this information online for my contractor who is in the Los Angeles area.
4) Get at least three references for your contractor and call them. The contractor will likely give you references who had positive experiences, so be sure to ask them specific questions about workmanship that are important to you. You might be concerned about whether the contractor cleaned up his work area and kept to his time line or whether the final invoice matched the estimate. When I was interviewing former customers of some contractors, I was amazed at how willing they were to tell me what to watch out for and where the contractor messed up. Having these 5 minute phone calls was very enlightening!
5) Check with the Better Business Bureau to find out if complaints have ever been filed or are outstanding against the contractor.
6) Request a written estimate. Any contractor who does not provide you with a written estimate should be crossed off your list immediately. Get at least three estimates and then compare prices with what is included. Remember the lowest bidder is not always the best.
7) Sign a written contract. The contract should clearly spell out all the steps the contractor will take from beginning to end of your job, what supplies are included, the payment schedule and the time line for the project. Put into the contract that you will get a discount of X number of dollars for each day the contractor is past his completion date. A few years ago, during the construction boom you would have not been able to get a contractor to sign up to late penalties. With the economy slowing down, now is a great to time to take control again.
What To Look Out For
• Hire a contractor who shows up on time for the initial estimate and seems professional and knowledgeable. If a contractor doesn't show up on time to bid the job, why would he ever show up on time after gets it?
• Check with the building department about whether a permit is required for the work to be done. If a permit is required, the liability is on the owner of the property to procure the permit or authorize the contractor to pull the permit.
• Make sure you hire someone with a large crew if time frame is important. My house took 2 years to build instead of one year due to manpower issues. Just think, the Empire State building was built in 14 months. Manpower is extremely important.
• You will need to provide a deposit to start the work but don't give too much up front. Enough money should be given to cover the contractor’s large expenses like construction materials, flooring, fixtures and crew to start your project.
• Contact your County Licensing Board. They can educate you about licenses, permits and trades, as well as answer any questions you may have about your project or a contractor licensed in your county.
• Don’t hire an unlicensed contractor! If you do, you will have no recourse should you be unhappy with the job. You will also be responsible for any and all code or permit violations cited by your county.