For most people, the purchase of a home is the largest investment they will ever make. Whether contracting to build the home of your dreams or to remodel an existing one, choosing a reputable and professional contractor is the most important part in assuring the job is done properly, to your satisfaction, and on schedule. As a consumer you want to protect yourself against unreputable contractors. Quality construction by a professional contractor should not be an unrealistic expectation when building or remodeling a home. The time you spend investigating a contractor is well worth the peace of mind and quality of a finished product. If you are ready to build a new home or remodel an existing one, you are probably wondering what to look for in a responsible builder. Here are some tips!
Select a contractor you are comfortable with, who understands your needs, desires, and one you can communicate with easily. It is understandable why consumers are tempted to turn to less reputable and professional contractors because job quotes are almost always lower. But consumers need to remember the risks involved in hiring uninsured contractors who provide no written contracts or guarantees and who often pay no taxes. Don't look only at the bottom line. Reputable contractors won't mind consumers who thoroughly check their credentials. They welcome the idea. It means less likelihood of an unsatisfied customer, because a careful consumer is one who cares about his home. Hiring a professional, reputable contractor who is a member of the local, state and National builders association is part of the consumer's assurance of a quality job.
Buying or remodeling a home costs a lot. You should be especially careful before you sign a contract or pay any money. If you buy a $30 toaster and it doesn't work, your life will not be disrupted. But problems with a $100,000 house or a $10,000 remodeling job can be emotionally and financially draining so you should take adequate precautions to protect yourself.
One of the most important precautions is: GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING. A new home or remodeling job is a business transaction. No matter how friendly and trustworthy the people with whom you are dealing may seem, insist on having everything in writing. Committing everything to writing will prevent misunderstandings among all the parties involved. For instance, suppose you want a particular color of carpeting installed in your bedroom. If you orally tell the sales person or construction superintendent about your choice, there are many opportunities for the message to be garbled or forgotten before it is transmitted to the person who will actually install the carpet. If the wrong carpeting is installed, there will be no record that you made the request.
Another important rule is: THE LOWEST BID IS NOT ALWAYS THE ONE YOU SHOULD TAKE. With a new Home or remodeling job, a lower bid could mean that lesser quality workmanship and/or materials will be employed. A good way to protect yourself is to shop around and get an adequate number of bids before you make your final decision. If you solicit four bids, with three of them about the same but the fourth substantially lower, you should immediately become suspicious about why the fourth is so low.
When selecting a contractor, try to get recommendations from people who have already done business with the person. You should talk to people who have gone through the same type of transaction that you are considering. Contact your local homebuilders association to find out if the contractor is a member. Membership in a homebuilders association generally means that the contractor is an established member of the community and is not the type who is going to skip town before your job is finished. You should also contact your city, county or state consumer affairs office. They might be able to advise you about general ways to protect yourself when selecting a contractor and tell you if there have been any complaints about specific contractors.
Keep in mind that if there are no complaints on file against a particular contractor, there is still a potential for problems. A consumer protections agency will have complaints. Not everyone with a problem takes the time to contact these agencies.
The most important advice to keep in mind is: DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND ASK A LOT OF QUESTIONS. You should ask questions before you make any commitments rather than after problems have developed. The extra effort will pay major dividends, which will add to the enjoyment of your new home or remodeling job.
Reprinted from NAHB housing News Service Release 9/89
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