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Hiring a Contractor
Hiring a contractor can be intimidating. After all, you are hiring someone on a very occasional basis to do the kind of work that you probably cannot do yourself. But AARP has some suggestions that can make the process easier and less stressful.
Decide what you want done. Take the time to think about exactly how you want the finished project to look. If you want to refinish your basement, for example, what do you want to do? Do you need or want to re-drywall walls? What kind of wall finish, flooring and lighting do you want? Do you need to make adjustments to your heating, air conditioning or flood prevention systems?
Ask for referrals. Start by talking to family and friends who have had contracting work done. Ask them what they liked and disliked about the contractor they used, and ask them if they would use that contractor again. You also can ask for referrals from your local hardware store or home improvement center. In general, it is not a good idea to choose someone who shows up at your door unannounced, especially if they say they can give you a good deal because they have materials left over from another job; this is a common scam.
Check out the names you get. Once you have compiled a list of several recommendations, start doing your homework. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are complaints against any of the contractors on your list. See if they are licensed in the state. You also can check online sites that offer reviews of contractors, although some of them require that you pay a fee to access the reviews.
Compare. Call each contractor and ask if they do the kind of work you want. Then ask how long they have been in business. Make sure they are licensed and bonded and have the proper insurance coverages. Ask for references, and then call the references and talk to them about their experience working with the contractor. You might also ask if you could see the work they had done.
Get written estimates. Narrow your list of potential contractors down to about three, and talk to them about the work you want done and the budget you have to do it. Ask each of them for a written estimate that includes the materials, the labor, starting and ending dates, and the total cost of the project.
Write everything down. Once you have chosen a contractor, get a signed contract. Never approve plans or any other paperwork that is not complete or that you do not understand. Make sure that your contract covers everything, including such issues as cleanup and penalties if the work goes past the specified end date.
Don’t pay until the work is finished. You probably will have a payment schedule that is based on the expected length of the project; this allows the contractor to pay for materials and labor during the project. But don’t make the final payment until the work is finished to your satisfaction.
Then, if you are pleased with your experience with the contractor you chose, be sure to recommend them to your friends.