By Andrew Blate, CPA
Owner, Beautiful Home Services, LLC
For many home owners, finding a qualified contractor is a task so daunting that is prevents them from pursuing home improvement projects. While this process of interviewing contractors can be difficult, following a few simple tips can help you weed out the bad apples!
- VA/DC/MD all require contractors to be licensed for just about any home improvement project. Even small projects and ‘handyman’ work. It is your responsibility as a home owner to not take the Contractor’s word that he is licensed, but verify it yourself. Further, in Virginia, contractors are required to have industry specific licenses. You should make sure that your contractor has the correct license. If they don’t you should not consider them for the project. License can be checked be visiting:
- Maryland: http://www.dllr.state.md.us/license/mhic/
- Virginia: http://www.dpor.virginia.gov/LicenseLookup/
- Washington DC: http://dcra.dc.gov/service/verify-business-license
- Ask to see a copy of their insurance. They should carry at least $2 million in liability insurance and $500,000 in worker’s compensation. Verify that the name on the policy matches their company name. You might want to even call the insurance company to verify that the policy is paid in full, especially on a potential dangerous job such as roofing or siding.
- Decide what kind of contractor you need: Handyman, specialist contract, design build, and general. You might want to interview a few from each category to find what is right for you.
- Ask for references that match the specific type of work. If you are having a kitchen remodeled, ask for kitchen references. Ask for a few older ones and newer ones. Call the references. Ask if problems occurred and how were they addressed by the contractor. If they don’t have older references, that is a big warning flag.
- Obtain AT LEAST 3 estimates. There can often be a wide range in pricing and service offered, especially for complex jobs. Estimates should be in writing and clear. Also, make sure the terms of the contract are fair and abide by the laws of your state. For large contracts, it might be worth having a lawyer review the contract.
- Ask who is doing the work: Sub contractors, employees, etc. Ask if there will be a foreman on the job site and if there is any oversight by company management, and if so how often. Make sure you have a direct contact number for someone in management in case there is a problem.
- Google search the company. Check reviews on Yelp.com, Angie’s List, HomeAdvisor, etc. If there is no record of the company and they don’t have a website, that probably tells you something right there. Also you can check out a company with your local consumer protection agencies. The BBB is also a good resource.
- If the price is too good to be true, then turn them away. If you don’t get the ‘warm fuzzy feeling’ then keep searching!
- The Contractor should treat the estimate like a job interview. They should be on time, clean, and respectful of you and your home. If they aren’t professional at the time of the estimate, how do you think they will handle the work? If you have to wait more than 4 or 5 days to receive the estimate after the initial meeting (except large projects like additions, etc.), then you should probably keep searching.
- Scope of work on the estimate, what materials are included and/or not included, etc. should be clear. Also give more consideration to companies who are detailed.
- When you execute the contract, you should NEVER pay more than 30% down (30% is the max deposit allowed in MD and other areas). Also, written into the contract should be a firm start date and finished date, as well as payment terms. NEVER EVER pay in full until the job is 100% completed and touched up.
- See if they offer a warranty. Does the warranty only cover materials or workmanship as well. Industry standard is 2-3 years.
Follow these simple rules and you’ll increase your chances for a successful home improvement contractor hire!