Whether you are planning a small repair project, like repaving your driveway, or a more extensive project, like adding a family room to your home, it pays to look beyond the lowest bid when selecting a contractor. Right from the start, you can eliminate less-than-reputable contractors by considering a list of traits common to rip-off artists.
· Do your research. Check with your own insurance company about your policy coverage and how it may relate to your home improvement project.
· Get multiple quotes and shop around. For all projects take the time to obtain 3 to 4 estimates including references to customers the contractor has already served. Ensure quotes are reflect virtually identical specifications, materials, project completion timelines, and details you can quantify and identify. Reject ballpark estimates that are too general as these tend to result in dissatisfaction and disputes.
· Check references. Check the references provided in the quotes, and specifically inquire with customers who had work done that is at least one year old. Visit the work sites and observe the quality of workmanship and similarity to your project.
· Confirm licensing. Always verify that the contractor is properly licensed to undertake the work. Check with municipal offices to determine what building permits and technical inspections are required and obtain guidelines around the timing of inspections. Building and technical inspectors may need to view some work before interior finishing is started.
· Confirm contractor’s insurance coverage. This is essential for your protection and should include confirmation that bonding is in place when required. Confirm that workman’s compensation coverage is current, and that liability insurance is carried at adequate levels. View actual copies of insurance polices if possible. Make short phone calls to the appropriate offices if you can’t see actual documents. You can even check the contractor’s history of compliance with occupational health and safety regulations.
· Stay calm. While you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Don't be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. It is your project and home so be pro-active in selecting a company and not re-active to sales solicitations.
· Avoid high-pressure sales tactics. Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have materials left from a job “down the street” and can fix something right away. Reject businesses that do not have a permanent place of business. If sales people go door-to-door then a Direct Sellers License is required and salesmen should be able to produce it. Call the BBB or Consumer Protection office for confirmation of this license.
· Consider the price. If one estimate seems much lower than the others and it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Contractors' below-cost bids seem attractive, but these contractors often are less skilled and may provide a lower quality of workmanship. There is a direct correlation between the price paid and the quality of the outcome. Remember that quality of workmanship cannot be regulated.
· Ask Questions. Discuss options with contractors before contracting the work. Clarity and understanding about what is possible and financially affordable adds to satisfaction. Get everything in writing. It is your right to require a written contract agreement. Be sure their name, address, license numbers, and phone numbers are included in the contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety, including the fine print. Never sign a blank contract, and make sure you get a copy of the signed contract at the time of signature. Remember you will be bound by the terms of the contract as will the contractor. All changes agreed to and made as the project progresses should be recorded either on all copies of the original contract or as an addendum to the original contract. Written addendums should clearly reference the original contract date, number, amount and signatories.