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Get Bids and References

Hiring a Contractor

Without a doubt, hiring a contractor is the part of home remodeling that causes more fear and anxiety than any other phase. How do you know you've got a good contractor, someone you can trust to do a good job for a fair price and stand behind his or her work? Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. But if you do your homework, you improve the odds of getting a contractor you will be happy with.

General Contractor

A general contractor is the person you hire to oversee the entire job, whether it's new construction or a major remodel job. The contractor is responsible for managing all aspects of the job including purchasing the materials and hiring the sub-contractors (subs). Typically, you sign a contract with the contractor and make payments only to him. The contractor is then responsible for paying the subs and suppliers. When you have a contractor on the job, that is the person you go to with all your questions and comments about the work. The contractor in turn communicates your concerns to the subs.

It's common knowledge that you want to get at least three bids on your job. The question is, whom do you ask to bid on the job? Word-of-mouth referrals are best. Ask your friends, family, and neighbors for the names of contractors they've been happy with. The responses you get back may include large design/build companies you're familiar with and smaller companies you've never heard of. Don't rule out this last bunch—there are many good contractors you've never heard of because they prefer to get all their referrals by word-of-mouth.

Whether you get referrals from people you trust or end up blindly calling listings from the phone book, it's important to trust your instincts. Did the contractor return your call promptly and show up on time for your appointment? During the meeting, did the contractor answer questions to your satisfaction? Willingly provide references? Lay out his expectations for the job? Did you feel like you had good rapport with this person? This is important; communication is the most important aspect of the client/contractor relationship and you have to feel that you can speak directly and honestly with your contractor.

Bids and References

When you ask contractors to bid on your job, be sure and provide each one with an identical packet of information that includes plans and a list of materials. It's important that they all bid the same job, otherwise you will have no basis for comparison.

The bids you receive should be in writing and contain an itemized list of labor and materials charges. You want fixed bids, not time and materials bids, which have a way of escalating far beyond what you expected the job to cost. The bids you receive will tell you a lot about the people bidding. Was the bid ready when the contractor promised it? It's a bad sign if the contractor breaks his first commitment to you. Was the bid outrageously high? This contractor is busy and only wants the job if you're willing to pay a premium for his time. Was the bid really low? This contractor either doesn't understand the scope of the job or deliberately underbid to get the job and will likely discover several unexpected problems that are not covered in the original contract and will require additional cash outlay.

When you get references from a contractor, make every effort to not only call the contractor's references, but to go over and see the work for yourself. You never know, that happy client could have entirely different quality standards than you do. Before you sign a contract, you also want to check into how he conducts business. Check the credit history and bank references, verify that the contractor carries both worker's compensation and liability insurance, and make sure there are no complaints against the contractor filed with the local consumer affairs office, builders' association, or Better Business Bureau.


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