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AARP Home Fit

How to Hire a Home Improvement Contractor

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

AARP Home Fit Guide

All sorts of homes can be lifelong homes. — Getty Images

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 lots of bogus home repair contractors who will take your money and run.

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. Seek 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. Also, staff at a local hardware or home improvement store can often make recommendations. 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. (Visit aarp.org/fraudwatch for more about protecting yourself from scammers.)

3. Check 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

Meet with at least three contractors. Make sure the contractors do 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. Check references from past clients. (Use Worksheet #6: My Contractor Interview Notes (PDF) and Worksheet #7: My Contractor Reference Check Notes (PDF) to record information about each candidate you’re considering.)

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. Get 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. If you do 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

Be sure all required building authorities have inspected the work and get a written statement that the contractor has paid all of the subcontractors and suppliers.

Page updated October 2014

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