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Hiring a contractor is not an easy task. Today’s contractors are busy, material and labor short to name just a few problems faced by a homeowner willing to hire a contractor for a renovation or major repair. But you invest a significant amount of money in your home and you want the job done correctly, on budget, and on time.

A reputable home builder will understand how important your home and renovations are to you. You will know that you have many questions and want to trust the company working on your most valuable asset. If they can’t or won’t answer your questions, they’re not the contractor for you – switch to another!

1. Ask for references. Yes, word of mouth from friends and family is always a good idea, and when you hire a contractor you want opinions from people you already trust. A good question to ask others is what questions they forgot to ask at the beginning. Also, take it a step further by talking to neighbors you may not know but who recently hired a contractor on a significant project. General contractor works are carried out at a local level using local labor and mainly locally purchased materials. Local contractors need to be familiar with local building codes and should be around if an emergency arises. Chicago remodeling companies are a great option to remodel your home with the highest quality.

Check references, online reviews and BBB ratings with recommendations. Reviews don’t have to be perfect, but the vast majority should be top notch. If there are enough ratings, you can expect some lower ratings from people who can never be satisfied. Once you have a shortlist, make phone calls before scheduling face-to-face meetings for estimates. They want to ask questions about other projects they’ve done like yours and the size of those projects. You might want to ask if they can provide financial references for suppliers and banks that support their work. It’s also a good time to ask how busy they are and if they can reasonably add your project to their workload. This is a good time to ask them to send pictures of work they’ve done like yours. You can also ask how long they have been working with their subcontractors.

Next, meet face to face. Select three or four contractors to meet for estimates and further discussion. A contractor should be able to answer your questions satisfactorily and in a way that allows you to work with them.

2. Expect timeliness. Unexpected appearances and untimely completion of projects are at the top of contractors’ complaint lists. This begins with a personal conversation. If they don’t show up or call ahead of time with a legitimate excuse to change appointments, don’t give them a second chance. If they’re more than 10 minutes late, they better have an incredibly good reason. If you let timeliness slip from the start, it’s something to be reckoned with while they’re working on your project, and it gets worse the longer you let it.

When you meet, pay attention to her appearance. If the person you meet is also a worker, you can assume that they are wearing work clothes and are a little dirty. But have they taken the time to clean up a little, or are their hands unwashed and their feet dragging debris into your home? The vehicle they drive is also a good indication of their organization and attention to detail. If it’s full of junk, fast food containers, and paperwork strewn everywhere, you can expect the same when they work on your house. Take the time to thoroughly review each contractor during the interview before making a decision or signing any paperwork.

3. Prepare with a fully defined project. It may take a meeting or two to discuss the design and scope of the project, but do not formally hire a contractor until the project is fully defined. If he or she needs to check the availability of a specific material or a contractor’s schedule, let him or her do it before you commit. If you think that if all goes well with the kitchen remodel, you’ll be doing a bathroom remodel, it’s fine to discuss this with the contractor, but make it clear that the second project will be a new project with a separate contract after the first has been satisfactorily completed. You may need to make some minor changes once the project has started, but the better defined it is at the beginning, the better your working relationship with the contractor will be.

4. Know who will be subcontractors. It is good if the contractor has all the skills needed for the whole project in his team. This gives them the most control over the budget and schedule. If there are subcontractors you want to know who they are, that they are licensed and insured. Also, insist that the contractor obtain and provide to you lien releases from all subcontractors and suppliers. Liens protect you if they don’t pay their bills.

5. Ask about other projects they are working on. This will be relevant to the size of the company, but you want to have that discussion. After you get a sense of how much work you can do at once, ask the specific questions, “How are you going to do my job at the same time as these other jobs?” Deadline delays add to your costs and inconveniences. Even if you just have to eat out at every meal while your kitchen is being torn apart.

6. Take the time to review the contract. Never start a project or make any payment without a written and signed contract. Many small contractors don’t want to deal with contracts. These are often the same contractors who don’t bother getting licensed, bound, or obtaining permits. And don’t just sign whatever the contractor puts in front of you. Expect to go through a few drafts for a big project. When the contractor writes the contract, you should assume that he is primarily protecting his interests. Read and understand these parts carefully. Everything in a contract is important. It must cover materials, schedules, quality, guarantees, etc. Penalties and payment schedules must be clear and easy to understand. If necessary, have them checked by your lawyer.

7. Verify proper licensing. Get all applicable license numbers. Most can be verified online with the issuing government agency. If they are not licensed, they are not allowed to pull permits in most locations. But that’s just the beginning of potential problems. Without a license they are not necessarily up to date with local building codes and the work will not pass inspection (even if you pull the permits). Ultimately, you pay for any repairs needed to meet the code.

8. Use proven payment methods. You never pay full price up front. Once the contract is signed and work can begin, it is advisable to pay around a third of the estimated cost. All checks should be made out to a company name and not to an individual. In some cases, when ordering special materials, it may be necessary to pay for them when signing the contract. After the first payment is made, there should be a clear timeline for all milestone payments. Intermittent milestones should be clear in the contract. For example, a second payment is due after the demolition and new kitchen floor has been laid, but before the plumbing begins. Final payment is not made until you are satisfied and all inspections have been passed.

9. Ask unique questions about what’s important to you. Your specific project and expectations should create unique questions that you want answered before signing the contract. You may want details on how the site is cleaned at the end of each day and at the end of the project. You may want to know what days certain subcontractors will be at your house. You might want to know that background checks have been carried out on everyone who comes to your home. You might want to know who will have keys to your house. If you haven’t specified specific materials, you may want to know what industry standards are used. You may want to set specific limits as to where they can go into your home.

10. How is communication before, during and after the project? Would you like a daily or weekly written report? Or will occasional verbal updates suffice? Would you like 24 hour notification and the names of all subcontractors who will be there? How often would you like to review work and progress? How are work order changes or unsatisfactory work communicated? Expecting the unexpected should be part of every renovation. You want to know who and how these will be communicated throughout the project.

What tips would you add to the list? Please share by leaving a comment.

Our weekly Ask Brian column also welcomes questions from readers of all levels of residential real estate experience. Please email your questions, inquiries, or item ideas to [email protected].

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