Setting The Standard

How To Hire A Contractor

A Straight Forward Guide to Winning the Home Improvement Game

Do your homework before the job even begins!

First Contact. First impressions are everything and indicative of how the contractor's business is operated. Did you have to leave a message, did he return your email? Chances are if the contractor is too busy to answer the phone or to return emails in a timely fashion, its a warning sign that they are too busy to give you the attention you deserve.

Bidding. We always encourage our clients to get a minimum of three estimates to gauge the average rate of work, you will find that the bottom lines of your potential contractors will differ significantly. A word of warning: beware of the low bidders. Unfortunately the nature of the business leaves the door open for many "contractors" to fly under the radar in various ways, from dodging taxes to not carrying proper insurances and employing illegal aliens, remember you get what you pay for, and when things go wrong you can be held liable and will be stuck footing the bill.

The actual estimate. The actual estimate should list products, materials, and labor costs and a time line. Material and product allowances should give prices and quantities. Compare services and prices before making a final decision. Make sure that the estimate clearly lists the process and all duties that the contractor will perform.

Find out how they staff the jobs. Who are the employees that will be performing the work? How long have they been with the company? Always make sure there is a supervisor available on site at all times. Communication is essential to the success of any job, we've heard all too many times about crews left on jobs and not a single person on the crew speaks English.

Beware of companies that use subcontractors. Unless you are hiring a general contractor for a remodel or a new build, hiring a painting company that employs the use of subcontractors is usually indicative of a contractor that is dodging tax, insurance and licensing obligations, and if something goes wrong on the job, you will be liable. Make sure that if you hire a painting contractor, they use their own employees. A good question to ask when scouting contractors is how they pay their employees, do they provide their employees with health insurance, do they use 1099 forms at the end of the year or are they actually on payroll? If they use 1099 forms, they are not only cheating their "employees" out of health insurance, and workman compensation, but they could possibly be cheating you too. Remember, if your contractor isn't set up as a legitimate business, if anything goes wrong, you will be liable.

Always get references. Reputable contractors will be happy to provide names and contact information of satisfied clients. If at all possible, try and get in to see a contractors actual work, while that may not be the most realistic option, at least have the contractor provide pictures of finished work along with the job details and contact information of the jobs in the pictures.

Licensing and insurance. Make sure the contractor is licensed, also make sure has proper general liability and workers-compensation insurance. A general policy of $1,000,000 is usually standard, make sure that if you require more insurance that the contractor is able to increase his policy for your job. Depending on the type of work the contractor is performing, at minimum an HIC license is required. With recent changes in Massachusetts lead laws, all contractors performing work on pre 1978 structures also require an RRP license. Make sure the contractor is also pulling necessary permits from the town to perform the work if a permit is required.

Check the Better Business Bureau for filed complaints. Also contact the Massachusetts attorney general's office. Should you encounter a problem or fraud later on, you can report any issues to both offices.

Always get everything in writing. A written contract will specify what will be done to complete the job, associated costs, and the payment schedule. Make sure if things come up during the job such as unforeseen additional items you get all the change orders properly estimated and in writing.

Warranty. Find out what type of warranty the contractor offers. A reputable contractor will warranty their work for a minimum of 3 years. Make sure the warranty is in writing.

Performing the actual work

Always pay by check. Write out the check to the contracting company rather than to an individual. Making checks out to individuals is asking for trouble. Chances are these the contractors are operating an "under the table" business. Dodging taxes, paying employees in cash, not carrying proper licensing and insurance are all usually par for the course with contractors that work on a cash only basis. If things go wrong on your job beware, you will be liable and stuck with the bill.

Stay informed as the job progresses. A reputable contractor will have either daily or weekly meetings with the client or at minimum updates via email or phone call as the job progresses, keeping you on top of the progress and informed of any issues that may come up.

Staying on schedule. Making changes to plans after work is always a possibility, perhaps a the client changes their mind on color, or its possible a remodel project uncovers unforeseen additional labor that is necessary to complete in order to get the job done properly. Make sure all change orders over and above the initial agreement are priced out, have a time frame and are in writing.

Make final payments only when the work is completed to your satisfaction. A reputable contractor will want to make sure you are ecstatic about the final product, and will only ask for the final payment when he knows the project is completed properly.

After the work is complete

Follow up service. If a contractor takes pride in his work and wants to keep you as a client for a long time, he will do everything it takes to ensure his work looks just as good as the day he finished. A reputable contractor will want to periodically inspect their work over time to make sure there are no issues that go unforeseen costing unnecessary money if they had been caught sooner. A quality contractor will also provide the client with follow up service and maintenance options, so the client can be worry free for years.