When you bring contractors, carpenters, plumbers and assorted workmen into your home, you are opening up your whole life to them. Not only do you need to confirm that they are competent professionals, you must assess their integrity, as well. You want to know that you can trust them to do the job right, as well as respect your home and its contents.
You can avoid most serious problems with a little planning and foresight. You want both capable and honest workers in your home, and can increase your chances of a successful and stress-free renovation by using this list of the top 10 questions to ask contractors before hiring them.
1. Insurance and bonding – Make sure your contractor is fully insured before you let him start your job. The company and/or the employees should be bonded, and you should ask for the particulars of the insurance coverage early in your negotiations.
2. Warranties – You will want to know what kind of home building warranties are provided, on both the work itself and on the materials used in the project. You should keep good records of any warranted work or materials so that you are prepared for any problems down the line.
3. References – Checking contractors’ references is crucial. Not only do you want to hear testimonials about their work, you will want to discover if they are they part of any homebuilder or tradesman associations. Checking references means speaking with other homeowners for whom the contractors have worked, as well as consulting the state licensing board and the Better Business Bureau about any complaints.
4. Portfolio – Take a good look at the contractors’ portfolios and make sure that you are satisfied with the level of their previous work. Drive by some of their current and finished projects to see how their work looks “up close and personal.”
5. Job supervisor – Make sure that you know who the onsite supervisor will be for your renovation. What is the person’s experience? Will they speak and make decisions for the contractor in his absence?
6. Project timeframe – A timetable is crucial for any big job, of any kind, so you need to ask specific questions about when the job will start, how long each phase will take and so forth. This information will be part of your project plan, so you need to get it early and get it “set in stone.” Of course, you need to be flexible (things happen, after all), but if you do not have a detailed timetable, flexibility will simply turn into delays.
7. Budget – You will want to calculate the cost for your home improvement as accurately as possible, naturally. Make sure your contractor has a plan, too, and breaks out the costs of materials and labor. Find out right away what type of payment plan is expected, as well as what sort of deposit is required. Needless to say, keep all receipts.
8. Subcontractors – If the contractor uses subcontractors, as most will for electrical and plumbing work (at the least), make sure to get the same kind of information about them as you did on the contractor. You also need to keep the communication flowing between and among all the different parties, or you risk deviating from the project plan.
9. Appliances and other hardware – It is your house and your money, so you do not need to cede the authority for buying materials and appliances entirely to the contractor. It is perfectly understandable that you would want to get the best prices for the components of the project. The way to avoid problems is to spell everything out in advance. If the contractor is too insistent on using particular suppliers or distributors, it may be because they have some kind of “arrangement” with them. Keep everything on the up and up by keeping everything out in the open.
10. Permits – You need to decide who will be responsible for getting the proper building permits and dealing with inspectors. The contractor’s expertise here is essential, although you may wish to be in the loop here.
Like any other sizable endeavor, a home renovation can be complicated and tricky. The best overall rule for managing this kind of project is clear, continuous communication. Nothing should be decided or done in the dark, and everything should be undertaken in accordance with the plan, the budget and the timetable.
It is mostly a matter of common sense and self-discipline. Make the plan and stick to it as closely as possible, while still allowing for some mid-stream changes if necessary. Remember that the goal is to enhance your family life by making the center of it, your home, as comfortable, welcoming and secure as you can. Stay positive, keep your wits about you and press on, deliberately and with a sense of purpose. Consider your home renovation another adventure in life, and make your mind up to enjoy it!
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