Very few of us, whether it was when we were in school or now, says “I love doing homework!” In fact, it is one of the top things that people procrastinate on. It’s not that it is always a difficult task. It’s simply the fact that it entails work. And after a long day at the office or taking care of the household, the last thing we want to take on is more work.
When it comes to home improvements, however, the extra work pays off.
Home improvement contractors are abundant. Whether you need a fence, a deck, a new kitchen or windows, a quick search will turn up dozens of contractors. But how can you be sure that they will do the job right? They might have a nice website, have some well done videos or you may have even seen their signs in your area. Those things are great and necessary for the contractors’ success, but they don’t tell you how well they can do the job. If you are considering a home improvement project that requires a professional, there are a few key steps to take when doing your home improvement homework.
Step 1 – Ask Around
If you live in a neighborhood with other homes of a similar age, chances are your neighbors have hired contractors. Check with them as well as friends and family that you trust to see who they used and what type of job they did. Whenever possible, if someone recommends a contractor that has done similar work on their home, ask them some detailed questions. Did they shop the price and how did the contractor compare? Was the contractor licensed and insured? Did the contractor begin and end the work on time? Were there any issues along they way and how did the contractor handle them? Was their crew professional? What was the quality of their work? Have they had any issues after the job was complete? It might seem like interrogation, but most people who have hired contractors are happy to share their experiences – good and bad.
Step 2 – Do Your Own Research
If you have a contractor or multiple contractors in mind, there are several ways you can check to see if they are reputable. Here are questions to ask…
Is the contractor licensed and insured? Without a license and insurance, you are at risk and there is no recourse if the contractor delivers poorly or worse yet, takes your deposit and runs! Be sure to record their license number. You can also check with the state home improvement commission to be sure that there are no complaints or judgements against the contractor.
Ask the contractor for referrals. In addition to reading online reviews (which can be hit or miss), ask the contractor to provide you with a list of clients who can speak to his/her job quality. The contractor is likely to only give you satisfied customers, but their input will still be valuable.
Ask how much of a deposit you will need to make to get the job started. No reputable firm will take the entire project fee up front. Some contractors require a 50% deposit, while others require a minimum fee to secure your project’s place in line.
Ask when you can expect that they will start your job. Every contractor has his or her busy season and project can often be several weeks to several months out. If you have a deadline to meet, such as holiday visitors, be sure to get a commitment on their timeline in writing. Projects can be affected by weather, which can be out of everyone’s control, so be sure to plan for inevitable delays, particularly with exterior projects.
Ask who your point of contact will be on the project. Many home improvement companies have sales people who are not generally the same person who will see your project through. Be sure to find out who in their organization you can call with any concerns, schedule conflicts and billing.
Step 3 - Compare Apples to Apples with Estimates
If you are obtaining more than one estimate for your job (which is always a good idea), be sure that each estimate has the exact same materials. Quite often, contractors use different materials. If your bids are comparing different brand name materials, the comparison is not a fair one. As with any manmade product, you have your top of the line and your bottom of the line. Be sure that your estimates include brand name materials that meet your needs.
Now that is not so difficult, right? Taking a few simple steps before having home improvements done will save you time, money and heartache.
If your home is in need of a fence or deck, we welcome you to get a free estimate from Tri County Fence & Decks. We do fence and deck work in Maryland in Montgomery County, Howard County, Carroll County and parts of Washington County. We have served the area since 1996 and are licensed and insured.