Updating your nest takes some preparation. Instead of signing on with the first guy who wants to set you up with new bathroom tiles or an expanded kitchen, do your homework and follow these tips for getting a job done well.
1. Be Prepared
Know exactly what you want and what your budget is before meeting with a contractor. If you're making a change to the floor plan of your home, you'll need to talk to an architect first to get sketches. Some design firms will have contractors on board, but you don't have to use them. Remember, you're the one in charge. You want to get the best work for the best price.
2. Ask Around
Find a reliable, good contractor through friends, family, coworkers, or neighbors who have had work done on their homes. And if a renovation or remodeling project that catches your eye is happening in your neighborhood, don't be shy about stopping by to ask about who's doing the job.
3. Check Their Work
Talk to at least three or four contractors about the job at hand, get price quotes, and ask them for local references. This way you can visit and inspect the completed projects and ask the homeowners questions: Are you happy with the job? Did the contractors start and finish on time? If not, why? (Ending times can vary depending on things out of their control, like delays in permit approval or unfavorable weather.) Did you have any problems with them? Did they pay their subcontractors on time? (Because if they didn't, subcontractors can come after you.)
4. Compare Your Costs
Take bids from three different companies and weigh your options. Make sure that each bid outlines in detail identical materials, building specifications -- (Enlarging the bathroom by four feet? Putting on a new cedar-shake roof and two bay windows?) -- and labor costs. Otherwise you aren't getting a clear idea of the differences among the offerings. But don't just pick the lowest price -- you might not get the same quality and will end up paying more in the end to fix the mistakes.
5. Check the License
Once you decide on a company, get the contractor's full name, address, and professional license number. Then call up your state's department of regulatory licensing (type this phrase into Google along with your state name) to check whether your contractor has a contractor's license, which means she's allowed to conduct business. Not all states require a license, so if yours doesn't, do some extra grilling of the company's references so that you're sure you won't be left high and dry.
6. Get the 411
Ask for your contractor's insurance certificate to make sure it says he's covered for workers' compensation, property damage, and personal liability claims. Otherwise you're liable if there's an accident.
7. Put It All in Writing
For every oral promise your contractor makes, be sure that it shows up printed on the contract. In some states, you can have peace of mind knowing that if you sign the contract in your home, you have three days to back out for any reason. For more information about the Cooling-off Rule, check out the Federal Trade Commission website.
8. Budget Some Room
If you're renovating (updating what you have without changing the floor plan in any way), unforeseen bumps in the road like rotting joists, outdated electric wiring, and rusted-out plumbing could mean an added chunk of cash -- anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. So plan for that in your budget. A remodeling job (meaning when the floor plan is changed) would automatically include all these costs, so don't let the contractor talk you into more money once a price has been agreed upon and the work has been started. Oftentimes, a remodeling and renovation go hand in hand, so it's always smart to include a "not to exceed" clause in your contract, stating that extra costs will not go above 10 percent or 20 percent.
9. Pay as You Go
Never pay your contractor in advance, but also don't starve her by not giving her enough funds to get the job done. Work out a "draw schedule," which is a schedule of payment based on when major amounts of money will be expended as the project goes along.[Nestperts]
Sheila Adkins, Associate Director of Public Affairs at the Better Business Bureau, and developer Joe Alfandre, president of The Kentlands Company (and father of this writer!)
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