Friday, June 14, 2013

Hiring a Contractor

Many people don't know where to begin when it comes time to find a contractor for their home building or renovation project. The first step is to find referrals, then get estimates and check references to prepare for a successful outcome.

Many people start by getting referrals from friends or family members who have had a successful project. There are other resources to consider that tap into expert opinions about about contractors' quality of work and professionalism. If an architect or interior designer is already involved, they will recommend the best general contractors for your needs. If you don't already have a design professional involved, you may choose to find one. Another reliable source may be a plumber, painter or other tradesperson that you already have experience with and trust. Also consider contacting the building permit department in your municipality for information about who they consider reputable, as they will have vast experience with people in the industry.

Choose a few contractors to meet. Get estimates and references. When you contact references ask whether or not the job was on time and on budget. Weather or changes a homeowner makes to a contract may cause the schedule to slip or budget to grow, but still reflect good customer service. If these issues arose, be sure to find out why. Of course you will want to know if the homeowner was satisfied with the outcome.  Find out about the communication between the contractor and the homeowner--how it was done and if it was done effectively. There may also be details that are important to you, such as cleanliness or keeping particular working hours. Once you have collected your estimates, be aware that sometimes (but not always) the lowest bid may come with a sacrifice in quality and professionalism. Balance the figures with what you learn from the references to get a full picture of the value for the work you will receive. Hopefully you will have an opportunity to visit a previous project to see completed work for yourself, as well.

Reputable builders should be members of pertinent trade organizations and hold all the legally required licenses and insurance. For example, Harmon Builders is a member of the US Green Building Council and has Green Advantage Environmental Certification. All contractors in Maryland must be licensed by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission, receive a MD-HBR (Maryland Homebuilder) Certification Number, and they must be certified "Lead-Safe" by the EPA. Find out if licenses and insurance are up to date--if not, assume that this is a strong warning signal that something is not right. Other signs of unprofessional conduct are implications that you must act quickly to avoid putting your home or family at risk, as are any other high pressure tactics that push you to make a decision without taking time to think it through.

You should be thrilled with the result of your building or remodeling project. The best way to see this end result is to pave the way carefully. Take these initial steps to find out about who you will be working with.

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