Angie’s List: Remodeling Plan Are Up; Tips for Hiring the Right Contractor

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Homeowners are jumping back into home improvement right now, but too many are skipping one or more important steps before they hire. A Feb. 2012 nationwide member survey showed 10 percent of homeowners who had hired a contractor to remodel didn’t have a contract in place for their project. More than 30 percent of respondents who had a contract admitted they hadn’t read it thoroughly.

“Your house is your biggest asset. It’s your home. You should do as much as you can to avoid a hiring disaster,” says Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List. “It’s not that hard to find great contractors, but it does require some advance work.”

Homeowners are jumping back into home improvement right now, but too many are skipping one or more important steps before they hire.

A Feb. 2012 nationwide member survey showed 10 percent of homeowners who had hired a contractor to remodel didn’t have a contract in place for their project. More than 30 percent of respondents who had a contract admitted they hadn’t read it thoroughly.

Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List, the nation’s premier provider of consumer reviews, said those consumers are risking a lot. Contracts literally spell out what the contractor and the homeowner are obligated to do and can either help or hurt you should the job end badly.

“Your house is your biggest asset. It’s your home. You should do as much as you can to avoid a hiring disaster,” Hicks said. “It’s not that hard to find great contractors, but it does require some advance work.”

Angie’s List consumers who have had poor experiences with contractors generally complain about not getting calls back, often when they call for estimates, but even more so when they hire the contractor and things go wrong. Some consumers report their projects dragged out for months when the contractors went silent, leaving the homeowner to find a reliable contractor to do the work at additional cost. Other common complaints are shoddy work.

4 Things You MUST do Before Hiring a Contractor:

1.    Get written estimates from at least three potential contractors to compare costs and timelines;
2.    Check references, trusted online resources, friends and family to learn about past performance;
3.    Verify applicable trade license, bonding and insurance status; and
4.    Read and understand the contract before you seal the hiring deal.

Angie’s List 13 Steps toward a Great Remodel:

1.    Clearly define your project: Before you begin talking with contractors, read remodeling magazines and search the Internet for information on designs and materials. Even rough ideas on paper give a potential contractor a better sense of what you hope to accomplish and what is required to make it happen.
2.    Management issues: Large projects, especially those that may involve more than three different specialists (i.e. plumber, electrician, carpenter, mason) will go better if you have a general contractor to manage all the various tasks and timelines.
3.    Structural issues: Projects that eliminate walls, add rooms or otherwise impact the structural integrity of your home, should involve an architect or a structural engineer.
4.    Ask around: Ask neighbors, friends and Angie’s List about good, local contractors, but don’t hire based on only one conversation.
5.    Check references: Get names of previous customers and find out if they were pleased with the work and the timeline of the project, and if they’d hire the contractor again. Get the names of subcontractors and ask if they work with the contractor often and does he pay on time. If your prospective contractor balks at providing references, find another one. Check with trade associations to learn how your contractor stacks up among his or her peers.
6.    Get estimates: Get at least three written estimates. Documentation is often the best ammunition you have if things go wrong.
7.    Where can I reach you? Be cautious of contractors who give you a post office box with no street address, or use only an answering service. Never hire someone who comes unsolicited to your door and can’t provide you proof of qualifications – especially if he or she pressures you to hire fast and pay cash up front.
8.    License for hire: Some states or cities have no licensing requirements for contractors, which can make it difficult for homeowners to check up on contractors before they hire. Don’t rely on the contractor’s word to know whether his or her license is valid: verify with appropriate agencies.
9.    Insurance and bonding: Check the status of the contractor’s bonding and liability insurance coverage, too. A good contractor will come prepared with proof that he or she is covered.
10.    Budget and payment options: The typical pre-payment is typically between 10 and 15 percent of the total value of the project. Set aside at least 10 percent more to cover any unexpected issues or additional plans that develop as the project progresses. Pay with a credit card, if possible, so you have recourse in case something goes wrong. Don’t make your final payment before the work is complete to your satisfaction.
11.    The contract sign: Don’t assume a standard contract covers all your needs. Know the details of the contract, as well as how any change orders will be handled. Your contract should include a lien waiver, covering payments to all subcontractors who worked on the project. Never sign a blank contract.
12.    Punch list: This is how the contractor will deal with the list of small items remaining to be completed at the end of the job. A good rule of thumb is to determine the cost of those items, double it, then withhold that amount from the final payment until the list is complete.
13.    Prepare your family for the stress: This is one of the most overlooked, but critical considerations. How will the project change your routine, especially if it’s a kitchen or bath? Where will materials be stored? What are the working hours for the crew?

Angie’s List collects consumer reviews on local contractors and doctors in more than 550 service categories. Currently, more than 1 million subscribers across the U.S. rely on Angie’s List to help them make the best hiring decisions. Members get unlimited access to local ratings via Internet or phone, exclusive discounts, the Angie’s List magazine, helpful online articles about home improvement projects, and help from the Angie’s List complaint resolution service. Take a quick tour of Angie’s List and view the latest Angie’s List news.

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Cheryl Reed
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