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Some electrical problems you might encounter are best left to a professional. If you need an electrician, consider these tips:

1 Ask for recommendations. Ask friends, acquaintances, and managers and salespeople at electrical-supply stores for names of trustworthy electricians. Also check the Yellow Pages under "Electrical Contractors" or "Home Repair and Maintenance."

2 Get more than one estimate. This is one of the easiest tips to ignore, especially if you're busy and you have a good feeling about the first contractor you contact, but you'd be doing so at your own financial peril. Call two or threecontractors. Find out how long they've been in business and how much they charge, and ask for references.

3 Don't get gouged. If you're faced with an electrical emergency and you must find help through the Yellow Pages, request a flat-rate price so you can get quotes from several contractors and establish the job's cost.

4 Understand the industry. Licensed, bonded electrical contractors get permits and assume responsibility for electrical jobs. Certified electricians are employed by contractors to do the work. In most cases you must hire a contractor, who will then send an electrician to your home.

5 Do some homework. Call the state Electrical Contractors' Licensing Board at (850) 487-1395 or visit find out if the contractor's licenses and fees are up to date. Check the contractor's complaint history with the Florida Division of Consumer Services toll-free at 1-800-435-7352 and the Better Business Bureau of West Florida at (727) 535-5522 or

6 Know what to expect regarding payment. With small jobs, contractors usually require payment upon completion or final inspection. For large jobs, expect to make an up-front payment of about 10 percent, followed by installment, or "progress," payments, throughout the project.

7 Know what not to do. Become suspicious if you're asked to get building permits. That should be the contractor's responsibility.

8 Watch those seemingly small details. Be sure the permits are in the contractor's name, not yours. Otherwise, you'll be obligated to make sure work is up to standard and required inspections are done.

9 Avoid liens. A lien could be placed against your property if a contractor fails to pay his suppliers or subcontractors, and you could be stuck with headaches and legal bills. Don't make the final payment until you receive a lien release or waiver showing that all suppliers and subcontractors have been paid. On large jobs, ask for partial waivers before you make each progress payment.

10 Be prepared to patch things up. Electrical contractors and electricians often don't do repair work after they cut or drill holes for electrical wires. You may have to hire a drywall or painting contractor to make those repairs unless you know how to do them yourself.

Laura T. Coffey (

Sources: eHow (; Better Business Bureau (; Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (; (


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