Choosing a Contractor

This home improvement guide will show you how to choose the best person to work on your dwelling

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The Smiths are happy with their new contractor, Lawrence Bailey. (Photo by Alex Jones)

After experiencing a home break-in this summer, Atlanta residents Jamilia and Charles Smith decided to look for a contractor to repair the damages. During the invasion, a burglar damaged the alarm system, broke the rear door of their home, and tore their flat-screen televisions from the walls in the living room and master suite, causing extensive damage to the walls. But they were soon in for another surprise.

The couple asked family and friends to refer contractors who had done work for them. They also researched how long each contractor had been in business, what kinds of jobs they had completed, and whether they worked alone or with a team. Charles, 41, and Jamilia, 35, received a strong referral from a friend and decided to interview the contractor. He told the Smiths he worked with a team and could repair the damages.

Much to their dismay, the Smiths soon discovered that the contractor worked alone, not with a team. Furthermore, he did a poor job on the painting and worked on multiple projects at once rather than completing one task before beginning another.  The Smiths had no other choice but to fire him after having already paid him $900. In hindsight, Jamilia believes that she and her husband should have spoken to more than one reference and visited a few of his previous work sites. Charles and Jamilia replaced the initial contractor with four different remodelers to do different projects. After the initial experience, they decided to hire specialists for each individual project––they hired someone to replace the door, someone to paint and do sheet rock, a contractor for electrical work and lighting, and someone for the wiring and mounting of the flat-screen televisions. The final cost was $4,000. Jamilia advises homeowners to go with their instincts. She also suggests, “If the contractor is doing multiple projects in your home, make sure they complete one project before they move on to the next.” Charles also adds that it’s important to discuss timeframes for completing the work upfront. “We were at his whim as to how fast or slow he’d work, which was a huge inconvenience,” he says.

If you’re planning to hire a contractor to do work in your home, make sure you follow these tips:

Start with your personal network. Ask your family and friends if they can refer you to anyone. Talk to neighbors who renovated their home. Once you narrow down your list, consult at least three contractors before making your final decision. “Free estimates are a good way to [broaden] your estimate,” says Lee Wallender, home renovations expert for About.com. “If you only talk to two contractors, one estimate will seem high and the other will seem low. If you get three, then it’s more precise. If you get five, it’s even more precise.”

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