Getting the best deal on a contractor

Chances are that in the time you live in your home you’ll want to get at least one home improvement project done where you’ll need to hire someone.  Whether it’s a new roof, new floors, new windows, paint, or a complete gut rehab, you’ll want to find a contractor at the best price to do the best work.  Here are some tips to save you money and get a great deal.

1. Get at least three estimates.  You really won’t have a great idea of how much your improvement costs until you speak with at least three people.  And by talking to more people, the better idea you’ll have of what goes into the project and how much it really does cost.  On that same note, don’t go with a bid that’s way below what everyone else is charging, especially if it’s someone new or an amateur.  You could end up with poor work that needs to be redone.  So make sure the contractor you choose is licensed and bonded and gets all the appropriate permits to do the job.

2. Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations.  They’ll know from personal experience who to hire and who to avoid like the plague.  Also, it’s common when you mention that you got their name from so and so that the contractor may be willing to work out a discount, especially if you pass their name along in the future for a job well done.

3. Negotiate.  Let’s say you hire the contractor that came in at the highest.  Tell him you got two other bids lower than his but you went with him because of his reputation.  Is he willing to match the lower bid?  Will he go down in price if you pay in cash?  Let’s say you went with the contractor that did have the lowest bid.  Did he know that you chose him out of 3 contractors because you liked his estimate the best?  Would he be willing to finish 2 days earlier than you were planning?  It never.hurts.to.ask.  This is not someone you plan to become best friends with.  It’s a business arrangement.

4. Make sure everything is in writing and know what it says.  True story: My relatives had hired someone to fix the roof and had a written contract.  Fast-forward one year later when they had a bad rainstorm and they now have a huge hole in their ceiling because the roof is leaking.  So they contact the roofer who specifically states in his contract that he is not responsible for interior damage.  Um, red flag?  Does he do this because of a previous problem?  My relative is an attorney and even missed this clause.  So make sure you thoroughly go over the contract and understand it before signing anything.  Now they have no recourse and have to pay for fixing their ceiling on their own.

Do you have any other great tips for getting a good deal?  I’d love to hear them.  Please leave me a comment or visit me online.

How to hire the right contractor

The Philadelphia Inquirer put out an advice column on what questions to ask any potential contractor to do renovations for your home.  You want to hire someone with whom you feel comfortable, and you want to make sure all your questions get asked before agreeing to the work.  Here are some real estate tips on what to ask.

First of all, you want to make sure you can communicate effectively with your contractor.  If they speak a different language than you, make sure that you understand each other before any work gets done.  You want to make sure they understand what you want out of the job and your concerns.  You’re the one that’s going to be paying them, so your needs need to be addressed.  You’ll also want to ask the same number of questions to each person you interview so you know you’ve done a thorough job.

contractor-using-pry-bar20to-replace-windowMake sure to ask how long they’ve been in business and how long they’ve done the specific work you’re looking for.  With this tougher economic situation, you don’t want the one you hire to fold when you need a repair a year down the road. 

An important question you should ask is whether work will be subcontracted out to other contractors.  Make sure you find out ahead of time what work that will be and if they’ve ever used those subcontractors before.  You might want to go ahead and get references on them beforehand, as well.  If possible, try to visit current job sites where these contractors are working on a job so you can ask the homeowners how the work is progressing and whether they’d recommend them.

If work will not be subcontracted out, find out how many employees they have working for them and who will be working on your project.  All contractors should provide proof of liability insurance as well as workers’ compensation insurance in case something is damaged while they are working or one of the workers is injured on the job.  I’ve seen lawsuits arise because of injuries without proper insurance.

Speaking of lawsuits, make sure everything you agree to is written out in a contract.  Hire a lawyer if need be to draft one up.  As changes get made during your project, it’s important to put those in writing, too.  Make sure that the products that will be used, whether it’s the paint color or the brand of carpeting, is also put into the contract so you’re not charged more for a different product than you ordered.

For more tips or a list of recommended contractors, please visit me online.