Get recommendations from your friends and family and then check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints and ratings. If it's a bigger job, you may want to speak with a building inspector who might give you some insights as to which contractors routinely meet code requirements. Depending on your need, you should check for licensing requirements of the potential contractors.
After you've compiled your initial list, Tom Silva of The Old House recommends that you make a quick call to each of your prospects and ask them the following questions relevant to your project. Some of these include:
Do they take on projects of your size?
Are they willing to provide financial references, from suppliers or banks?
Can they give you a list of previous clients?
How many other projects would they have going at the same time?
How long have they worked with their subcontractors?
The answers to these questions speak to the company's availability, reliability, how much attention they'll be able to give your project and how smoothly the work will go.
After you've spoken over the phone, narrow down your list to hree or four contractors to meet for estimates and further discussion. A contractor should be able to answer your questions satisfactorily and in a manner that puts you at ease.
Ask the prospective contractor for a current job site and see if you agree with how the contractor works. Look that the job site is neat and safe and whether or not the workers seemed to be courteous with the homeowner's property.
Now that your list should be much shorter than when you first started, it's time to get the plans together. Good contractors will have a sense of your expectations and what you plan to spend. To compare bids, ask everyone to break down the cost of materials, labor, profit margins and other expenses. Generally materials account for 40 percent of the total cost; the rest covers overhead and the typical profit margin, which is 15 to 20 percent. Also, be sure to ask if the bid is fixed or is just an estimate.
Expect to put down about 10 percent at contract signing for larger projects. The rest of the payments can be evenly spaced over the duration of the project and a check for the final 15 percent when you feel every item on the punch list has been completed.
Tom Silva says to "Throw out the lowball bid. This contractor is probably cutting corners or, worse, desperate for work". The single most important factor in choosing a contractor is how well you and he communicate and how comfortable you feel.
A written contract will specify the steps to complete the job and their associated costs, as well as the payment schedule. Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces.
Even if your project is small, hiring a contractor can be made easy when keep a few simple tips in mind.
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