Finding a qualified and experienced contractor can be the deciding factor on whether you are making a sound investment in upgrading your home or throwing your money away.
With so much on the line, here are five steps to take in choosing the right person for the job:
1. Begin with a budget. It’s easy for costs to quickly get out of hand if you don’t establish your budget before any work begins. Unless you have the necessary cash on hand, you will need to speak to your mortgage lender regarding the scope of the project and anticipated cost so you can secure financing through a home equity loan or other financing.
As you reach out to contractors, ask for quotes, rather than estimates. The latter are more likely to change once the job is under way. When getting a quote, be sure to find out how long it is valid.
Once you know your pre-approved amount, you can use that to establish your budget. Then, stick with it. Because the unexpected can happen—and often does—you will want to build in a cushion.
2. Do your homework. A major renovation can be a big investment. So, you’ll want to do your homework. The more research you can do before hiring a contractor, the less risk you’ll be taking on.
Do not hire a contractor based only on his or her advertising. Check with your friends and trusted coworkers. Another great source is your real estate agent. If you check online reviews, be sure you do so on third party sites and not the contractor’s website.
This is also the point at which you should meet with an architect or design professional if your project requires one.
3. Schedule several interviews. Next, it’s time to sit down with your top few choices before awarding the contract. This will enable you to get a good idea about each contractor’s reliability, availability and business ethics.
Before meeting with any of them, create a list of questions, such as length of time they’ve worked with their current subcontractors and number of projects they will be working on at the same time as yours. During the interview, you should also ask about insurance and licenses.
4. Put it in writing. It should go without saying, but once you have selected a contractor, you will want to get everything in writing. A written contract can help to protect you in the event of unforeseen circumstances that impact your project.
The contractor will likely produce a contract once you indicate you wish to hire him or her. The agreement should include an explanation of the timetable and what happens in case of delay, what happens if the cost of materials rises significantly and any other number of potential problems.
Be sure the payment schedule and stipulation for payment are spelled out. The contract should also include a lien waiver and subcontractor lien waiver. It should state that the contractor is responsible for getting any necessary permits. Be sure you also know how change orders are handled.
Prepare for a construction zone. If you have a family, be sure everyone understands the impact on the household. If you have pets, consider whether it would be more stressful for them to stay in the house during the renovation or more stressful to stay with a willing friend. Keep their safety in mind as well.
In addition to your household, it’s important to prepare your house. Move your belongings out of the way or at least ensure they are completely covered.
There’s no doubt that a renovation can be a stressful time. But with a bit of planning, you’ll come through the process satisfied that you’ve enhanced the value of your home.
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