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Your Home Environment Resource - University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County

Household Hints & HELP!

Selecting a Home Contractor

submitted by Lorene Bartos, Extension Educator
This article will appear in the April 4, 2004 Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper.

Spring and summer are common times to think about home improvement projects, such as remodeling or putting in a new roof or driveway. Hiring a reliable contractor is critical for a successful home improvement project. Following some simple steps will help ensure a satisfactory remodeling experience.

Avoid common scams by being cautious of contractors that come directly to the home. They may say they are already in the neighborhood so they can give you a special price and usually will attempt to pressure you into making a quick decision. Ask door-to-door solicitors to leave a phone number and materials. Legitimate operations have a permanent address.

Ask friends or colleagues for names of contractors they've used. Look for contractors that belong to professional associations. These associations usually have professional standards for their members. Ask how long the contractor has been in business.

If possible, aim for getting at least three bids. Give all contractors the same information so estimates are comparable. Ask for names of previous customers and call or visit them to see if they would hire the contractor again.

Do not agree to obtain building permits for the contractor since this makes you liable for the quality of the work but do be sure the necessary building permits are obtained by the contractor. Do not allow work without a permit. Permits provide an assurance the work is being completed according to local building codes.

Be sure the contract is complete. It should have specifications for all major materials and steps in the project. If quality, types or brands of materials are important to you, be sure this is also stated in the contract. For additions or remodeling jobs, insist on scale drawings. Clean up, repairs or replacements for defective merchandise and faulty or poor quality work should be addressed. Ask about the contractor's insurance coverage, and how and when building materials and service bills and any subcontractors will be paid.

Don't sign a contract with blank spaces and do not agree to pay the amount in advance. Discounts for advance payments are a potential indication of a scam. Another variation is contractors who offer to arrange financing for you. They may offer to take care of everything if you sign a few papers, saying payments can be spread over several years with a small down payment. However, the papers may be for an extremely high-interest loan against your home which involves large balloon payments at the end. If the loan money is paid directly to the contractor even before the work is done, the contractor may have little incentive to complete the job.

If financing is necessary, check with your bank or lender. Home equity loans usually are easy to get and carry a reasonable interest rate. Pay the contractor as the work is completed, reserving some money for when the work is finished satisfactorily.

Remember, if you sign a contract for home improvements, federal and state laws allow three business days to reconsider the decision and back out of the contract. The contractor must leave a copy of the contract and must explain your right to cancel.

Home improvement projects will be a more pleasant experience if you take precautions in selecting a contractor and keep on top of the progress during construction.


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