Hammering at home

Q: How can I select the right contractor to ensure good work?
–M. Long
South Carolina

A: First, get several referrals from friends, family and employees at home improvement stores, advises Barbara Buchholz, co-author of Successful Homebuilding and Remodeling: Real-Life Advice for Getting the House You Want Without the Roof (or Sky) Falling In. Then meet with the prospective contractors and their subcontractors to get written bids. Obtain at least three. Also, ask about their availability and experience, and determine if their work pattern fits with your schedule.

Once you narrow your selection, check out the contractor’s background and credentials. Request references and assess the quality of their completed work. Ask for proof of the contractor’s insurance, license and compliance with workman’s compensation and check expiration dates. Also, contact your local Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org).to run a complaint check.

Most important, “get a written contract,” Buchholz insists. It should include a start date, the scope of the work-specifying exactly what’s included (clean up and all)-any ground rules you set (e.g., no use of the telephone), payment terms (insist that you be allowed to hold back at least 10% until the job is finished) and completion date. Once you sign the contract, you have three days to legally cancel it. But if you go ahead, document the process with photos and written notes.