Summer is the season for home improvements. Make sure your project goes smoothly with these tips for finding a trustworthy contractor — and spotting one who isn’t.
Smart steps for selecting a contractor
Contact your local home builders association or remodelers council for a directory of members. This list, plus references from friends and family, can help you get started.
Ask the Better Business Bureau about complaints filed against the contractors you’re considering. Other helpful contacts include past customers and other building or remodeling professionals, such as your architect or a materials supplier.
Check for membership in industry associations.
“When you see someone who has taken the time to do this, it shows that they care about their business and care about representing themselves and their industry well,” says Paul Sullivan, vice chairman of the National Association of Home Builders Remodelers.
Make sure the contractors are currently licensed and registered. These requirements vary by state, so ask your local or state agencies for specific details.
Request proof of insurance.
“Contractors should have liability and workers’ compensation insurance,” Sullivan says. This can help protect you against injuries or property damage that might occur.
Get at least three different estimates. Ask the contractors to explain any differences, and avoid immediately choosing the contractor with the lowest cost.
Once you’ve selected a contractor, insist on a written contract. Some things the contract must include: the contractor’s contact information, a project timeline, a payment schedule and permit requirements.
“Your contract also should have a clause allowing you to cancel the contract and seek a return of unused funds if the contractor can’t complete the project,” Sullivan says.
Signs of a contracting scam
Pushy door-to-door sales tactics or unsolicited phone calls or visits.
Promising discounts for using leftover materials or for referring other customers.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Sullivan says.
Insisting on a large deposit or cash payments in full.
Asking you to secure building permits.
Unwillingness to provide local contact information.
The Federal Trade Commission offers additional tips for hiring a contractor on its site.
Information provided by Ben Buenzow, State Farm Insurance, 3273 100th St., Urbandale, 270-8870.