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Home improvement dos, don'ts

Are you considering remodeling your home? Here are some dos and don'ts for hiring a contractor for your project.

Research pays off, but remember who the expert is.

DO research your project before you get quotes. It doesn't hurt to find out, at least generally, the correct way your project should be completed. Look at trade magazines and visit home improvement websites to explore different approaches to remodeling. Find out what industry standards are, what is not allowed, or what might work best for your project. Knowledge gives you power to negotiate the best price for the best work.

DON'T think a little knowledge makes you an expert. And don't think your project will be completed like projects you see on television. Home improvement shows are deceiving. There are whole crews bringing the project to a finish between the time the camera is rolling. Mistakes are edited out. Remember that every project is different, and there can be hidden complications. Most reputable contractors will keep you informed of unexpected developments and will discuss solutions with you, including estimated extra costs. In some cases, they can tell you in advance what kinds of hidden problems they've seen before and whether they think they'll experience the same issues with your project.

Get competitive bids, but don't take the lowest bid offered.

DO get competitive bids. For small projects, calling two or three contractors is usually sufficient. For larger, more extensive projects, it's wise to have a minimum of four to five contractors bidding against each other.

DON'T take the lowest bid offered, thinking you will be getting the best deal, even if your contractor shows up looking like the perfect professional. Be leery of any contractor eager to bid lower than everyone else. It's common for less-reputable remodelers to have "hidden costs" they spring on you later in the project, when you can't back out without extreme inconvenience or loss of what you've already invested.

Negotiate for the best price, but don't under-value your contractor.

DO negotiate for the best price. Pick the best contractors, and give them a chance to bid against each other for your project. Most contractors are willing to negotiate. If you can't get them to negotiate on the labor price, ask them to offer you discounts on materials. Most contractors get commercial discounts between 5 to 25 percent from suppliers, and may be able to offer you a portion, if not all, of this discount without suffering a loss on the value of their time.

DON'T get too obsessed with negotiating. Contractors often pay high insurance and overhead costs, especially if they have employees. They want to work for you, but if you want a high-quality product, keep in mind that a reputable contractor with good references will walk away from your project if he thinks you are undervaluing his skills.

Insist on a contract, and understand its terms.

DO insist on a comprehensive contract. Many people think a contract locks them into a set price, which is not really the case. The most important aspect of any remodeling contract is the detailed scope of services to be provided. Even for small jobs, this is the key to getting services with a set price. Also, the contract should state how long it will take to complete services, as well as what kind of materials will be used. Insist on high-quality fasteners, caulking and other materials to protect the integrity and long-term durability of your project.

DON'T ignore payment terms, which can vary greatly between contractors. Make sure you understand terms fully. Pay your contractor in a timely manner. If you find the contractor is not meeting his end of the bargain, you have every right to withhold payment until a certain portion of the work is completed in accordance with the terms of your contract. Make sure payment terms state amounts to be paid at specified time periods. Having a clear and concise contract legally protects both parties and prevents misunderstandings.

Check references carefully.

DO check references, and if possible, look at a portfolio of finished projects. Try to arrange a visit to a site where the contractor performed work similar to your own project.

DON'T let a contractor's charm sway you. You want to ensure that the contractor has a good track record by calling or visiting client references. If possible, try to talk with clients who have finished projects more than a year old. Newly remodeled areas always look great compared with the old, but work that still looks great a year or more later is proof of quality workmanship.

Home improvement dos, don'ts 09/02/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 10, 2012 4:22pm]

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