Tips on Hiring Contractors
When making home safety modifications for the elderly it is often necessary to hire contractors or remodelers. This article offers tips and guidelines to help you select and work effectively with a contractor.
First write a description of the work you want done with as much detail as possible.
Finding a Contractor
Finding a contractor or remodeler is a crucial decision. Depending on the size and complexity of your project, different professionals are involved:
- General contractors manage all aspects of your project, including hiring and supervising subcontractors, getting building permits, and scheduling inspections. They also work with architects and designers. For major additions or new building a general contractor is most often used.
- Specialty contractors install particular products, such as electrical and bathroom fixtures.
- Architects design homes, additions, and major renovations. If your project includes structural changes, you may want to hire an architect who specializes in home remodeling.
- Designers have expertise in specific areas of the home, such as kitchens and baths.
Hire a professional who has experience with projects similar to yours. The individual should know what materials and techniques are needed for your project; about potential problems and how to solve them. For specialized projects, such as kitchen or bathroom remodeling you can hire a design/build company, which can up to handle both design and renovation work. Start by looking for several suitable contractors. A good source of referrals can a family friend or neighbor who has had similar work completed. They can tell you about the dependability of the contractors they worked with, the quality of the work and their overall experience with that company. Other sources are your local building supply stores and through the contractors websites on the Internet. Your local homebuilders and renovators associations can also be a good source.
Certified Aging in Place Specialists
In 2002, the National Home Builders (NHB) introduced the Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS) designation. This recognition is intended to assure the elderly that the certified remodelers and builders understand the ins and outs of home makeovers for the unique circumstances of aging seniors.
Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS) have completed NHB coursework and have shown sufficient know-how when it comes to specialized construction and consultation techniques. CAPS professionals are trained in the needs of independent living seniors.
We recommend using a prescreened qualified contractor such as those found at Qualified Remodeling.
Discuss your project with a few potential contractors to get their advice and suggestions on how they would do the work. At the first meeting, some may give you a rough estimate of costs, depending on the project’s scope and complexity. A contractor who is knowledgeable about the type of work you’re doing should be able to suggest ways to get what you want and meet your budget.
The first meeting is important for getting to know the contractor and his/her work. You should not sign or pay anything at this stage.
To find out as much as you can, ask questions such as:
- How long have you been in business?
- What kind of work do you specialize in?
- Have you done similar projects before? How many? How many in the past year?
- Can you provide a list of references (names, addresses, numbers and project description)?
- Are you licensed and registered? For what type of work? e.g., electrical, plumbing?
- Ask contractors for their business license number.
- Will you use subcontractors for all or parts of the job?
- How would you handle specific problems related to the project (e.g. re-locating bathroom fixtures)?
- When do you clean up?
- What will the work schedule plan be?
- What is your warranty and what does it cover? Is this in writing?
- Can you supply a copy of your standard written contract?
- What is your proposed payment schedule?
Before you go any further make sure the contractor has all the necessary skills and qualifications. A reputable contractor will be prepared to answer these questions. If the contractor does not appear to be familiar with the type of project or avoids your questions, you more than likely have the wrong contractor.
The contractor should be able to clearly communicate how the project will proceed, what problems could arise and how you will work through these. You want someone who’s willing and able to help you refine your plans where possible, resulting in a more desirable and cost-effective project.
As a general rule, with the proper drawings and specifications, 2 or 3 estimates will usually provide sufficient information for you to make a decision. It is important to spend the time up front and develop good-quality drawings and detailed specifications. In many cases a contractor will supply these as part of their quotation or estimates. The drawings should become part of the overall contract if you hire the contractor.
Even with a small project, written specifications are needed. Be as specific as you can: what type of flooring, what kind and brand of fixtures, what kind of finishes you want, etc.
Examine the estimate carefully and make sure that everything you ask for is in the estimate. It should include everything that the contractor will have to do to complete the job and a construction schedule. Assume that anything not listed is not included in the price.
Remodeling often uncovers hidden problems, so make sure you include a contingency budget to cover unforeseen costs. Make sure it is clear what is and isn’t covered by the quotation.
It’s not always best to choose the contractor who provides the lowest estimate. The contractor may not have understood the project, may be underestimating what it will take to complete the work, or simply trying to get a price advantage over the competitors. In any case, you could risk unexpected and additional costs, or you may end up with a job that leaves you unsatisfied.
Look for a fair price. Factor in any differences in what the contractors are offering and the skills they bring to the job. Then add the intangibles: reputation, willingness to make suggestions and offer advice, the likelihood of standing behind the work. Choose the contractor you feel will give you the best overall value for your money.
You have multiple payment options for most projects. For example, for smaller projects, you may want to pay by check or credit card. For larger projects you can get a bank loan or arrange financing through the contractor.
Never pay cash. Contractors who insist on cash may be unlicensed and uninsured. They could neglect to get the required permits or inspections. Product warranties may not be valid if a recognized contractor does not install the items.
A cash deal may leave you with no legal recourse if something goes wrong or the work isn’t satisfactory, or if the contractor walks off the job without finishing it. In fact, it makes it difficult for you to prove the contractor was ever there. After you have paid the contractor, you may find that materials haven’t been paid for or workers haven’t been paid – leaving you responsible for the bills.
Try to negotiate a reasonable payment schedule, which provides an incentive to the contractor to complete the work, tips to follow;
- Try to make payments during the project contingent upon completion of a defined amount of work. If the work is not proceeding according to schedule, the payments also are delayed.
- Don’t make the final payment until you are satisfied with the work.
- Some state/provincial or local laws limit the amount by which the final bill can exceed the estimate, unless you have approved the increase. Check with your local consumer agency.
The Contract – Get it in Writing
Do not be tempted by a contractor who doesn’t have an address, doesn’t want a written contract and offers a discount if you pay cash. This type of underground economy transaction involves many risks and pitfalls that offset any savings to the homeowner.
For your own protection and peace of mind, it’s best to always get it in writing.
Contract requirements vary by state and province. Even if your state does not require a written agreement, ask for one. A contract spells out the who, what, where, when and cost of your project. The agreement should be clear, concise and complete. Before you sign a contract, make sure it contains:
- The contractor’s name, address, phone, and license number, if required.
- Your name and address.
- The payment schedule for the contractor, subcontractors and suppliers.
- An estimated start and completion date.
- Detailed description of the work, plans (or sketches) and a detailed specification of the materials (type, quality, model, color, brand name) to be used.
- The contractor’s obligation to obtain all necessary permits.
- A clause stating that work will conform to the requirements of all applicable codes, such as building, safety and fire codes.
- How change orders will be handled. A change order is common on most remodeling jobs. It is a written authorization to the contractor to make a change or addition to the work described in the original contract, and it could affect the project’s cost and schedule.
When the job is finished, the contractor may ask you to sign a certificate of completion. Don’t sign it until you have thoroughly inspected the work. If the contractor has to return later to finish a few minor details, you should note this.
Use this checklist to make sure the job is complete before signing and making final payment.
- All work meets the standards spelled out in the contract.
- You have written warranties for materials and workmanship.
- The job site has been cleaned up and cleared of excess materials, tools and equipment.
- You have inspected and approved the completed work.
If you have a problem with your project, first try to resolve it with the contractor. Many disputes can be resolved at this level. Follow any phone conversations with a letter sent by certified mail. Request a return receipt. That’s your proof that the company received your letter. Keep a copy for your files.
If you can’t get satisfaction, consider contacting the following organizations for further information and help:
- State and local consumer protection offices.
- Your state or local Builders Association
- Your local Better Business Bureau.
- Action line and consumer reporters. Check with your local newspaper, TV, and radio stations for contacts.
- Local dispute resolution programs.