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How to Hire a Home Improvement Contractor

Here's the homework you need to do before letting someone work on your home

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Finding the right skilled help for a home update or repair project requires more than just opening the phone book or surfing the Internet. Unfortunately, there are bogus home repair contractors and handymen who will take your money and run.

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Here's the homework you need to do when hiring someone to work on your home.

1. Make a list of what you need done

Before you talk to a contractor, think carefully about the work you want done. Write down exactly what you want the contractor to do.

2. Get recommendations from family and friends

Talk with family, friends and neighbors who have used contractors. Find out if they were satisfied with the work, the price, and the time it took to complete the job. Ask if they would use that contractor again. Local hardware and home improvement stores can often make recommendations or give you the name of someone they respect. Beware of the stranger who shows up at your house unannounced and says he can give you a good price because he has leftover materials from another job. This is rarely a good choice and could be a scam.

3. Check out the recommendations

Once you have a list of names, do some research on them. The Better Business Bureau can help you find out if there have been any complaints filed against a contractor or their company. It is also a good idea to see if the contractor you are interested in is licensed in your state. Although licensing doesn’t guarantee reliability, it’s a minimum qualification a contractor should have.

4. Compare contractors

Make sure the contractor does the kind of work you are interested in and ask how long they have been in business. Ask for proof that they are licensed, bonded, and covered by workman’s compensation and liability insurance. Get references and check them out to make sure they are financially sound.

5. Get estimates

Meet with at least three contractors to discuss the job you want done and your budget. Estimates should detail the materials to be used, the labor charges, the start and end dates, and the total cost.

6. Put everything in writing

A well-written, clear, and detailed contract is very important. Make sure that everything you agreed to is in writing. Don’t approve any plans unless you understand them. Never sign a contract with any blanks and get a copy of everything you sign. Take your time to make a decision and remember, genuinely good deals will still be there tomorrow. Get a second opinion before you sign. You can cancel a contract by sending a letter to the contractor within three business days, if the contract was signed in your home or somewhere other than the contractor’s permanent place of business.

7. Don't pay the final bill until all the work is complete

Don’t make your final payment until all the work is complete and you and any necessary local building authorities have inspected the work. Also, before you pay, get a written statement that the contractor has paid all of the subcontractors and suppliers.

Learn More! Select a Home Fit topic from the sidebar (above). Read the complete AARP Home Fit Guide in print by downloading (PDF) or ordering your free copy now. Contact your AARP State office and ask when it will be hosting an AARP Home Fit Workshop.

Article last reviewed or updated April 2014

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