5 On Your Side

Tips on hiring a contractor

Posted March 11, 2009 5:33 p.m. EDT
Updated March 11, 2009 7:40 p.m. EDT

— Whether you want to remodel a kitchen or just need home repairs, the process of finding a reliable contractor can be overwhelming. However, there are things you can do to protect yourself and your money when hiring a contractor.

Start with a specific plan of the work you want done. That will help you and the contractor come up with accurate prices and keep you from adding work you don't want.

Then shop around and get at least three written estimates. However, don't be too quick to jump at the lowest bid. A survey by Consumer Reports shows people who hired the lowest bidder generally got poorer work.

Get references from current and previous customers. At a minimum, call the person, but it is advised that you see the work for yourself.

Ask about quality, clean-up, how the contractor handled changes, did he or she return calls and were the jobs completed on time and on budget. If not, find out why.

Get proof of insurance, and then verify it. Otherwise, if a worker is hurt or something is damaged during the project, you could be liable.

Find out if the contractor is licensed. In North Carolina, a license is required only for jobs that cost $30,000 or more. A license doesn't guarantee success, but does indicate a degree of professionalism and competence.

Next, get a written contract – signed by both you and the contractor. It should specifically list the scope of the work, as well as materials, allowances, prices, labor costs, the payment schedule and a timetable.

Never pay too much up front! Experts say 10 percent down, then pay more as work is complete. For example, when half of the work is done, half of the money should be paid.

While taking these steps can't guarantee you will get a great contractor, they can lessen the chances you will get a bad one.

The North Carolina Home Builders Association and the National Association of Home Builders can be sources for finding a contractor. Industry trade groups usually require members to meet certain competency and financial standards.

Also, check out Better Business Bureau of Eastern North Carolina and the North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors.

You can also contact the North Carolina Attorney General's Office at 919-716-6400.