Whether it's a small interior paint job or a whole-house remodel, finding the right contractor is the key to success. These seven steps will help you avoid scams and major cost overages, so all you have to do is enjoy your new and improved home.
1. Make a list.
Before you talk to a contractor think carefully about the changes you want to make to your home. Write down exactly what you want the contractor to do.
2. Get recommendations from family and friends.
Talk with family, friends and neighbors about contractors they used. Find out if they were satisfied with the work, the price and the time it took to complete the job, and especially whether they would use the contractor again. Local hardware and home improvement stores can often make recommendations too.
Beware of the stranger that shows up at your house unannounced and says he can give you a good price because he has leftover materials from another job. This is rarely a good choice and could be a scam.
3. Check recommendations.
Once you have a list of names, research them. The Better Business Bureau www.bbb.org and the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Protection Office www.ftc.gov/bcp/consumer.shtm can help you find out if there have been any complaints filed against a contractor or their company.
4. Compare contractors.
Make sure the contractor does the kind of work you are interested in and check how long they have been in business. Ask for proof that they are licensed, bonded and covered by workman's compensation and liability insurance. Get references and check them out to make sure they are financially sound.
5. Get estimates.
Meet with at least three contractors to discuss the job you want done and your budget. Estimates should detail the materials to be used, the labor charges, the start and end dates and the total cost. Beware if the pricing seems too good to be true -- it probably is.
6. Put it in writing.
Make sure that everything you agreed to is in writing in a clear and detailed contract. Don't approve any plans unless you understand them. Never sign a contract with any blanks and get a copy of everything you sign. Take your time to make a decision and get a second opinion before you sign.
You can cancel a contract by sending a letter to the contractor within three business days, if the contract was signed in your home or somewhere other than the contractor's permanent place of business. Genuinely good deals will still be there tomorrow.
7. Don't pay the final bill until all the work is complete.
Don't make your final payment until all the work is complete and you and any necessary local building authorities have inspected the work. Also be sure to get a written statement that the contractor has paid all of the subcontractors and suppliers.
To learn more about home improvement, home design and what features make a home and neighborhood a great place to live, visit www.aarp.org/housing.
Blog written by David Shotwell, the Senior Director of Livable Communities at AARP. He leads the Association's educational and outreach efforts related to housing options, including universal design and living in place, as well as broader mobility options, including expanding transportation choices for older Americans.