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Home Improvement Guide 2007
Get ready
Before starting any home improvement project, research and planning is the key to successful results.
Hiring a professional
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You want to feel good about who you work with; after all, you are inviting them into your home, often for days at a time.

"It's so different from new-home building, where many times you never meet the home builder," she says. "With remodeling, this guy is going to live in your house, they're going to disrupt your life, they're going to turn off your electricity, they're going to take your dog in and out of the house if you're working. You've got to be extremely comfortable with that person."

Once you have a short list of candidates, check out their business credentials. Are they licensed, bonded and insured? How long have they been in business? Any complaints against them with the Better Business Bureau or your state's attorney general? Are they certified by, or members of, professional trade organizations?

Next, call their local references. Did they start on time? Complete on time? Did they meet all terms of their contract? Did they make good on their warranty after the project was completed?

Make sure you see a valid insurance certificate before choosing any tradesperson, Burchett says.

"That's a big issue in this industry because people are out there underbidding the next guy because they don't carry liability insurance and workers' comp and therefore they can cut their prices," she says. "The roofing industry is well-known for being uninsured."

Once you've identified your finalists, each will visit your home to discuss the project in detail, then return with a bid.

"Make sure you get bids on the same scope and quality of work, because you can install a $99 sink and you can install a $599 sink," Burchett says.

In addition to the bottom line, make sure your remodel contract includes the tradesperson's complete name, address and license number; start and completion date; complete list of materials to be used; your right to review and approve plans; warranties (one year is standard for additions) and how payments will be handled.

Some professionals ask for a minimal deposit, others for anywhere from one-third to one-half up front depending on the size of the job or the materials they must purchase. As a rule of thumb, don't prepay so much that it removes their incentive to complete the job in a timely fashion.

When in doubt, have a lawyer review the contract before signing. (Conversely, by inserting an arbitration clause, you may save yourself costly lawyer fees should disagreements occur during construction.)

-- Posted: April 4, 2007
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