November 2, 2006  
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Featured Issue: Improve Your Home Improvement Savvy

The home improvement bug hits many homeowners hardest in the Fall of the year. It's a prime time to make improvements that will reduce energy bills during the winter months, for instance. You may have been waiting for summer to end to put on an addition. Or maybe you're preparing to spiff-up the exterior prior to selling. Whatever the motivation for making improvements, you will be probably dealing with one or more home improvement contractors. This is a good time to brush up on your homeowner-contractor skills. The ancient adage, 'Caveat emptor' (Let the buyer beware) is never more true than when making home improvements.

The more homeowners understand about the basics of the home improvement business, the less likely it is they will have negative experiences with contractors, according to homeownership advocates.

What does a homeowner need to know?

There are three fundamental rules of contracting for home improvements that will help take the mystery and guesswork out of hiring a contractor:

  1. Do your homework

  2. That means not only knowing where to look for prospective contractors. It means knowing what references to ask for and what red flags to watch out for. Preventing problems before they occur is always a wise investment of a homeowner's time. Taking advantage of the existing consumer protection services that are available should be an automatic first-step for any owner who relocates into a new neighborhood or state. Check out How to Hire a Contractor to brush up on your smart consumer skills.

  3. Create a strong contract

  4. It's not safe to assume your contractor's standard agreement will protect your interests, as a homeowner. Frequently it's quite the opposite. But, many homeowners don't know what to look for in a good contract. Whether you are a do-it-yourself type or a homeowner who would rather seek professional assistance, there are multiple ways to insure that any home improvement contract you enter into is clear, thorough and fair. You should learn how to exercise your rights as a consumer, too. What's in a good contract?

  5. Know how to compare bids

    One of the easiest-to-learn but least-exercised homeowner skill is that of asking multiple companies to submit bids, and then selecting the most appropriate company for your needs. And guess what? It's NOT usually the low bidder that turns out to be best. The reasons may surprise you. But, if you haven't taken the time to be a comparison shopper for home improvements, in the way you are with most other products, you are exposing yourself to a variety of potential abuses. Here's the smart way to compare bids.

Looking for qualified contractors? AHA members can receive free referrals on pre-screened contractors. More.

Consumer Resources

The Federal Trade Commission: The FTC works to eliminate unfair or deceptive marketplace practices. Site includes areas of FTC involvement plus a complaint form for consumers. More . . .

Be Sure Your Next Remodeling Contract Includes These

You'd be surprised how many of the following fundamentals don't make it into construction contract documents. More . . .


How to Hire a Contractor

Interview each contractor you're considering. Here are some questions to ask. More . . .

How to Compare Bids

When considering which contractor to hire, be sure that each of the bids you've accepted for the project include the same features and quality of materials. That way you'll be comparing apples-to-apples and not apples-to-oranges. Decide exactly what quality level of paints and finishes and brand/model appliances you want, first, so each contractor can bid on the same specifications. That way you'll be making an informed decision and can negotiate with greater strength. More . . .

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