Hiring a Contractor?

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With a little bit of homework, building or remodeling a home can be a delightful experience. Yes, we said delightful!

He thought about it for a while … imagined what our house would look like with a few improvements. Our 12-year-old had been asking for his own room for years, and my dreams of having a formal dining room kept creeping into my thoughts with regularity.

My husband, Nick, and I discussed moving to a bigger home with a larger house payment, but we like our neighbors and neighborhood. The kids love their school. And the thought of packing up all of our belongings and hauling them to a new house didn’t sound too attractive. That’s when we finally agreed that adding on to our home was the way to go.

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After many handmade sketches, (including my 7-year-old’s version using a blue-colored pencil (“Like blueprints, Mom!”), we met with an architect, got our plans drawn up, permits filed, and we dove in. But how would we find the best contractor to turn our dream plans into a reality?

Hiring a contractor to make improvements to your home is a major decision and one in which you’ll invest a great deal of your hard-earned money. With some cautious planning in assessing your needs and choosing the right contractor, your remodeled house can become the home of your dreams.

What Type of Contractor Do I Need?

There are more than 40 different types of contractor licenses ranging from general building contractors to specialty licenses, such as plumbing and roofing. Since most home improvements require more than one specialty contractor, it is usually best to hire a general building contractor (GBC). A GBC will oversee the projects and coordinate the subcontractors for your job. This GBC also may hold a specialty license for specific types of work, such as carpentry or electrical, and may opt to perform those tasks rather than subcontract them out.

Finding the Right One

One of the best ways to find a qualified contractor is to ask around. Talk to your neighbors, coworkers, family or employees at the local home-improvement center to find out who the reliable contractors are. If you see someone in your area in the midst of a home-improvement project, casually monitor their progress to see how the remodeling job gets finished.

More than a year ago, our neighbors underwent an extensive remodeling. We learned a lot of “dos” and “don’ts” by asking them questions, and as a result, found the perfect contractor to oversee our remodeling and room addition. Here are some helpful hints to consider when searching for your perfect contractor:

  • Consider only contractors who are licensed. Check the status of their license by calling the Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors at 741-8307 or by visiting state.tn.us/commerce.
  • Ask for three references of past work completed in the area, similar to the type of project you’re planning to take on.
  • Get at least three bids. Beware of any bid that is substantially lower. This may indicate that the contractor has made a mistake or is not including all the work quoted by his competitors. If you accept an abnormally low bid, you may be on your way to a dispute with your contractor. To insure that the bidding process is equal, have copies of your blueprints available for each contractor to review.

Put it In Writing

As with any agreement, a home improvement contract is best when everything is spelled out in writing before the project begins. A written contract protects both the homeowner and contractor.

A well-written contract should include everything you have agreed upon and the extent of work to be done. Be as specific as possible.
When signing the contract, keep these things in mind:

  • Get all verbal promises in writing.
  • If you intend to do some of the work or hire a subcontractor, write this into the contract.
  • Don’t sign any blank or partially blank contracts.
  • Verify the financial terms of the contract so you understand the total price.
  • Specify all materials to be used, including weight, color, size, brand name, quality or quantity.
  • If you and the contractor agree to change something from the original contract, have those changes reflected in a written “change order.”
  • Get a copy of the contract signed by both parties and keep it in a safe place.

Payment Schedules

After you and your contractor have agreed on a price, by law the job must be completed for the agreed-upon sum. There must be a written change order if the price is to be modified. Your contract should list a schedule of payments, showing the amount of each as a sum in dollars and cents. Each payment should correlate with a specifically referenced amount of work or services to be performed and to any materials and equipment to be supplied.

For smaller construction jobs – in the $500 – $1,000 ballpark – expect to put down 25 – 50 percent of the total cost up front. For larger jobs in the tens of thousands of dollars, payments are usually broken into four or five payments – or draws – which should never be made until that portion of the work is completed. Don’t let payments get ahead of the work.

Keep the Communication Open

With any home-improvement project, there will be delays and inconveniences. Talking to your contractor can minimize many of these. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask when the power will be temporarily shut off or the water disconnected, so you can plan for the inconvenience. But even with the best planning and communication, conflicts are bound to occur. Remember to keep your eye on the prize – a beautifully remodeled home. When your home improvements are completed, you become a reference for your contractor and a resource for another family just beginning their remodeling adventure!

 

Helpful Resources

Thinking of building or remodeling? These local offices will not only provide a list of contractors’ names, but will also verify if a contractor is licensed and take complaints if construction goes awry.

Home Improvement
(for jobs ranging from $3,000 – $25,000)

Davy Crockett Tower, Ste. 110
500 James Robertson Pkwy.
Nashville, TN 37243-1140
532-3993, 532-3994
Toll Free: 800-544-7693

Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors
(for jobs of $25,000 or more)

Davy Crockett Tower
500 James Robertson Pkwy.
Nashville, TN 37243-1150
741-8307

Claire Yezbak Fadden is a freelance writer and mother of three.

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