Planning a Home Improvement Project

The right way to work with contractors

Your house is 50 years old. It creaks a bit, and the insulation is not what it used to be. But living in a cul — de — sac where your children can play safely makes it all worthwhile. So, you’ve been contemplating making a few upgrades to that old colonial.

The high cost of housing has made such scenarios commonplace. Even though interest rates are starting to climb and the housing market is cooling, people continue to tackle home improvements, according to Arthur Hood, a contractor in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Whether you want to install Brazilian cherry hardwood floors or a brand — new kitchen with professional — grade appliances, jot down these tips before you call a contractor:

Choose selectively. Talk to at least three contractors and obtain bids for the work. “A good question to ask the contractor is, ‘How many other jobs do you have going on right now?’ A good contractor will be honest and book you weeks away when they have less clients,” says Glen Gallucci, a real estate investor who buys, sells, and rehabilitates properties and the president of Peak Properties (www.peakpropertiesonline.com) in New Jersey. When speaking to former clients, ask about the contractor’s dependability, workmanship, and whether the bid costs were close to the final cost. For a directory of contractors in your state, visit www.improvenet.com.

Check the insurance. Ask for a copy of the contractor’s certificate of insurance and call the insurance company to see if the policy is active. The contractor should also have worker’s compensation coverage and liability insurance, which covers your property. For example, if a worker is injured on your job, he or she should be covered by the contractor’s insurance, not your homeowner’s policy.

Create a contract (and yes, you do need one). Every project, no matter how big or small, should be covered by a contract. “Get a written estimate and contract — written, not verbal,” says Gallucci. “Everything should be written down. The ‘scope of work’ is a detailed estimate of what they are going to include,” he adds. It should also indicate the date the job will start, an estimated completion date, and a payment amount and schedule. However, keep in mind that unforeseen problems, such as weather, can delay a project.”To keep the contractor on track, you can include penalties that will cost the contractor anywhere from $150 to $250 per day for not completing the work on time,” says Hood. This amount can vary depending on the size of the project.

Get the paperwork in order. Call the Contractor State License Board for your state to determine if the contractor’s license is current. However, some states do not require a license. (Also check with the Better Business Bureau in your state to see if there are any past or pending complaints against the company.) The contractor may need to obtain municipal permits for building, plumbing, electrical, and installation work.

Pay the right way. Make sure the payment structure gives you the leverage. It is customary for contractors to request one — third down

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