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Hunting the Elusive �Reputable Remodeler�

Beat the Bushes Wisely!

The Contractor you choose to remodel your house will be carrying a hammer, spending time around your children and your dog, and have access to your checkbook (in a figurative sense). This means you need to find a good one that you trust. But finding a qualified home improvement Contractor is easier said than done. It�s critical that you make the right decision. A wrong decision will cost you considerably more than lost money.

Word-of-Mouth is Traditional & Reliable

How do you begin? The best place to start is often in your own neighborhood and within your own circle of friends. Ask people you know who have had recent remodeling projects who they used and if they were satisfied. Referrals from friends, neighbors and business colleagues are the best way to find a remodeling Contractor. If you�ve applied for a home improvement loan your lender may have a list of contractors they believe to be reputable, who may be added to your list of prospects.

Whatever you do, do NOT start with the most prominent or splashiest advertisements in the phone book; and ALWAYS be wary of telemarketing pitches! Remodeling is serious business and it�s a serious investment of your time and money. Getting qualified referrals and doing the homework to check them out will be your best bets for finding the right company for your project. You should plan in advance to set aside an adequate and realistic block of your time to pre-qualify prospective Contractors before you start seriously interviewing them. There are lender-backed and pro-consumer services available that can help you in this process. Take advantage of them!

Do-It-Yourself Contractor Hiring Checklist

If you don�t use a neutral third party to screen a prospective contractor�s reputation and performance history, here are some of the questions you should definitely ask any remodeler you interview.

How long have you been in business?
It is a fact that 95 percent of remodeling businesses fail in the first five years. You should look for a company with an established business history in your community.
Who will be assigned as project supervisor for the job?
Also ask whom you should contact if the supervisor is not available. Be sure to get exact names and contact phone numbers for all persons who will be involved in the project. And ask if these workers are employees or subContractors.
What is the time frame for starting the project?
This is your lead in for questions about work scheduling. You should ask: What is your estimate for completion? How early will your crew normally begin work? When will they normally quit for the day? Will I be contacted about delays or changes in the schedule? By whom? Etc.
What is your approach to a project of this scope?
This will give you an idea of how the Contractor works and what to expect during the project. Listen carefully to the answer. This is one of the big indicators of how the project will progress and the company�s work ethic.
How do you operate?
In other words, how is your firm organized? Do you have employees or do you hire subContractors? Some firms will have other positions�some may have "handymen" to help with smaller jobs or follow-up work, while others might have in-house designers. You should know what parts of your project will be handled by staff, and which will be Contracted out to independent contractors, such as the plumbing or electric.
Is your company a full service or specialty firm?
If you are planning a small project, say replacing the bathroom plumbing, you may be better off hiring a specialty plumbing firm or a bathroom remodeler. However, if your project involves multiple changes, entire rooms or additions, you should consult a full service or design-build firm.
Do you have design services available?
If you are considering a large or involved project, you will need design services. If the Contractor does not have design-build capabilities, you should consider hiring an architect. Depending on the size and scope of the project, you may need an architect or structural engineer.
Does your company carry workers compensation and liability insurance?
Ask for copies of the insurance certificates to verify coverage. In addition, some states require licensing and registration. If your state does, ask if the Contractor is in compliance with the law and ask for a copy of his or her registration and license. Confirm the license number with your local jurisdiction.
May I have a list of customer references for similar projects?
The Contractor should be able to supply you with a minimum of three references, including names, telephone numbers and addresses. As a follow up to this question, ask how long ago the project was completed and if the Contractor can arrange a site visit to see the finished job.
What percentage of their business is repeat or referral business?
This will give you a good indication about the company�s customer satisfaction. Most remodeling businesses attribute over 50 percent of their annual volume to customer referrals, while some claim up to 90 percent of their total annual sales.
How many similar projects have they completed in the past 12 months?
This will help you determine the Contractor's familiarity with your type of project. You should ensure that a good portion of those completed projects were similar to the type of project you are proposing.

Other recommended interview questions include:

  • Will you provide me with a written proposal? What will it entail?
  • What type of warranty do you offer for this type of project?
  • What should I expect during the remodeling project?
  • How do you handle changes to the project?
  • What major products do you normally use?
  • How would you describe your company�s work philosophy?
  • What can I do to prepare my home for the project?
  • What will you do to minimize the dust and dirt in my home during the job?
  • Will you provide site clean-up after the job is finished?
Avoid hiring a Contractor when:
  • You can�t verify the name, address, telephone number or credentials of the remodeler.
  • The salesperson tries to pressure you into signing a Contract.
  • The company or salesperson says your home will be used for advertising purposes so you will be given a special, low rate.
  • The builder/remodeler tells you a special price is available only if you sign the Contract today.
  • No references are furnished.
  • You are unable to verify the license or insurance.
  • You are asked to pay for the entire job in advance, or to pay in cash to a salesperson instead of by check or money order to the company itself.
  • The company cannot be found in the telephone book, is not listed with the local Better Business Bureau or with a local trade association.
  • If the Contractor does not offer, inform or extend the three days Right of Recision in writing as required by law. This grace period allows you to change your mind and declare the Contract null and void without penalty, if the agreement was solicited at some place other than the contractor�s place of business or appropriate trade premises�in your home, for instance.

Be cautious if:

  • You are given vague or reluctant answers.
  • The Contractor exhibits poor communication skills or descriptive powers.
  • The contractor is not accessible.
  • Your questions are not answered to your satisfaction.
  • The Contractor is impatient and does not listen.
  • Only the work is addressed, instead of your needs as the homeowner.
  • There is no presentation book of previous projects presented.

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