At this stage of the game, don't discount
your gut. For example, if the contractor looks sloppy
or unprofessional, trust your instinct. Don't spend
time trying to figure out why you feel this way. Move
on to the next one.
Check the references
Once you narrow down your list, call the references.
Ask for three references from different periods of time.
Since small contractors often change their staffs quickly,
a reference from four years ago might not apply to the
staff a contractor has today.
You can also contact the Better
Business Bureau to check for any complaints against
When talking to references, ask open-ended
questions. "Don't ask, 'Do you think the contractor
was a good contractor?'" says Winans. "Most
people will say yes. Ask a question like, 'Tell me about
something that occurred that made you think this was
a good contractor.'"
Eugene Baldwin, a home improvement specialist
with Clinton, Md.-based contracting firm Amerideck,
suggests taking it a step further and going to see the
work the contractor has already done, if possible.
Be wary of contractors that come looking
for you. Also, get everything in writing and check the
contractor out with trade organizations to see if he
If anyone demands all of the money upfront, steer clear.
Likewise, a contractor that demands to be paid in cash
is one you'll want to avoid as well. Any contractor
you use should have a physical mailing address rather
than a post-office box.
While cost is an important factor, don't
assume that the contractor who offers the lowest price
is the best one. If two contractors offer similar estimates
and a third offers one that's extremely low, be wary.
An experienced professional wants to get your business,
but isn't likely to undercut himself in the process.
Once you make your choice, look carefully
at the contract. If you're not sure about something,
ask. Make sure it describes the job in detail and lists
all materials that will be used. Also, make sure it
lays out what is included and what is not.
The contract should also specify what
will be done when the job is complete. You don't want
to be stuck cleaning up after the contractors. If a
contractor fails to pay for materials, a lien can be
placed on your home. To avoid this, add a release-of-lien
clause to your contract. Finally, any warranties or
guarantees should be spelled out in the contract as
While it may seem like you are going through
a lot of work, consider the amount of money you're planning
to spend on your project.
The more time you invest upfront,
"the less likely it is you're going to be scammed,"
Posted: April 12, 2006