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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

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.

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1. Make a list of what you need done

Write down exactly what you want a home improvement contractor to do.

2. Seek recommendations from family and friends

Beware the stranger who shows up at your home unannounced and says something like, "I'm on a job in the area already so I can give you a good price." This is rarely a smart choice and could be a scam. (Visit 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 tell you if complaints have been filed been against a contractor or company. Also, although having a state license doesn’t guarantee reliability, it’s a minimum qualification a contractor should have.

4. Compare contractors

Meet with more than one contractor. (At least three is a good number.) 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 worker's compensation and liability insurance. Check references from past clients. (Download and use the worksheets "Home Improvement Contractor Interview Notes" and "Home Improvement Contractor Reference Feedback" to record information about each candidate you're considering.)

5. Ask for estimates

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

Don’t approve any plans you don’t understand. Never sign a contract with any blanks, and do keep a copy of everything you sign. Take your time to make a decision and, remember, genuinely good deals will still be there tomorrow.

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 February 2015

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