There are a few common-sense rules for hiring a home-improvement contractor. Following them practically guarantees you won’t be defrauded:
- Check your contractor’s references and contact the Better Business Bureau and the state consumer-protection office to find out if there are any complaints. About half of all states have licensing laws; be sure to get a look at your contractor’s license before work begins. Ask for copies of insurance certificates as well.
- You might ask the contractor if he belongs to any trade groups — the Remodelor’s Council and the National Association for the Remodeling Industry are the largest organizations. Contractors who join these groups are often more committed to their work and to the success of their industry.
- Learn as much as you can about your project and the work involved so you can talk intelligently with your contractor. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t feel like you’re insulting your contractor if you ask for a second opinion. If he’s honest, he won’t mind.
- Nothing is more essential than a good contract. It should be detailed, including scope of work, supply lists, product brands, and procedures for dealing with changes. A reasonable payment schedule should also be included. Don’t let the contractor get ahead of you on payments — you’ll lose your leverage.
- Never accept an exceptionally low bid — it will mean trouble. Don’t make snap decisions. Take at least 24 hours to think about the job, and get a second opinion before you sign anything. Whenever practical, supply your own products or go with the contractor when he buys materials. For custom cabinets, tiles, or other specially made items, pay the supplier directly.
- Meet regularly with your contractor. If you detect problems, take action. If you’re the victim of a scam, call the police and the state consumer-protection office immediately. And spread the word in your neighborhood to protect other homeowners.