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Hire a Contractor in 7 Easy Steps

 

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Don't get discouraged! Here's how to find the right contractor the the right job. 

Hiring the right contractor will turn your renovation project into a dream. Hiring the wrong contractor will turn that dream into a never-ending nightmare. The idea of searching for a contractor might cause some to cringe with frustration or give up completely and hire the first name you find. But with a little homework and planning, finding the perfect contractor can be easy.

Step 1: Be Confident

Treat this as if you were hiring an employee -- you’re the boss.  And as the boss, it’s not only okay to ask questions, it’s crucial. This is not the time to be timid and simply assume everything will work out. This is the time to be firm, confident and in charge.

Step 2: Do Your Research

You wouldn’t hire a photographer without seeing a sample of their work, so never hire a contractor without first looking at their past projects. Asking a contractor for photos of previous jobs might seem as if you're being nosey, but remember -- you’re the boss. Request a list of 10 previous customers from the past year, complete with contact information, and follow up with the customers. (You won’t need to call all 10 names on the list, but it’s nice to have options. Call at least three names to start.)

If a reference had  a problem, ask them how they handled it and follow up with the contractor to get both sides of the story. You can also contact the Better Business Bureau and/or licensing departments to find any complaints that have been filed against the contractor.

And though it may seem obvious, check to make sure the contractor has a legitimate mailing address. Are they a real company with a real location? If they only list a P.O. Box, ask for the street address.

Also check that the company has been around for a few years. Older is usually better. When it comes to contracting work, experience is king. You might get a lower bid from a new contractor, but if you’re unable to check their previous work, tread carefully.

Step 3: Understand the Paperwork

It can be easy to get lost and frustrated among all the different licenses, insurances, certifications and warranties. Simply put, here’s what you want out of a quality contractor:

Insurance

There are two kinds of insurance, and both are crucial: General liability insurance will protect you if the contractor damages your home or property. Workers’ compensation insurance protects you if the contractor is injured on the job.

If the contractor doesn’t have both, you’re at great financial risk should anything go wrong. Ask for proof of both insurance policies, and don’t accept anything else. A contractor may try to tell you that his health insurance or life insurance covers your liability, but that’s not true. A quality contractor will have general liability insurance AND workers’ compensation insurance.

Licenses and Certifications

A business license is not the same as a contractor license. A business license only means the company is filing their taxes. A contractor license, required by some states, means the contractor passed a written exam in their field.

Many industries also offer credential programs for contractors in their field. These programs require that contractors receive education-based training on proper installation, maintain necessary licenses and insurance, and have experience working with the materials. For example, CertainTeed has established a standard of excellence for siding called the CertainTeed 5-Star Contractor Program credential and roofing contractors can earn the ShingleMaster commendation or the more rigorous SELECT ShingleMaster

To receive the siding credential a contractor must complete and pass the Vinyl Siding Master Craftsman course as well as attend a full-day training program led by industry experts. In addition to passing the courses mentioned above, a 5-Star Contractor candidate must provide ongoing proof of insurance, General Liability and Workers’ Compensation coverage where required by law, a secure credit rating, and a Better Business Bureau® accreditation.

You can also use these programs to find a contractor that shares your values – if sustainability is important to you, look for credentials such as CertainTeed 5-star Green Contractors or Roofing RESPONSIBLY Contractors. There are innovations and new materials being developed all the time, hiring a contractor who keeps on top of industry technologies can benefit your project.

Typically, a contractor will offer a workmanship warranty that covers their work for one year or more. Remember, if anything will go wrong with a project it usually happens quickly, so longer warranties aren’t necessarily more valuable. And a good contractor will stand by their work and honor a warranty even after the warranty lapses.

A workmanship warranty is different from a manufacturer's warranty. A manufacturer’s warranty covers the material against defects in manufacturing. Ask for a copy of the manufacturer's warranty and review it. Improper installation may void a manufacturer's warranty, which is another reason why properly credentialed contractors are recommended.

Part One in a Two-Part Series

Now that you have your top candidates, it’s time to talk contracts.

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