5 On Your Side

Seven steps to help you hire a contractor

Posted March 11, 2009 5:39 p.m. EDT
Updated March 11, 2009 7:40 p.m. EDT

1. Have a plan. 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.

2. Shop around. Get at least three written estimates, but 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.

3. Get references. Get them from both current and previous customers. At a minimum, call the references. Even better – go see the work. Ask about quality, clean-up, how the contractor handled changes, did he/she return phone calls? Were the jobs completed on time and on budget! If not, find out why.

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

5. Check the license. In North Carolina, a license is required only for jobs that cost $30,000 or more. But, while it doesn't guarantee success – no matter what the project cost, a license does indicate a degree of professionalism and competence.

6. Get a written contract. Make sure both you and the contractor sign it. It should specifically list the scope of the work, as well as materials, allowances, prices, labor costs, the payment schedule and a timetable.

7. Don’t pay too much. 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. Contractors who require more often aren’t financially sound. And don’t make the finally payment until the job is completely finished and you have signed releases or lien waivers from sub-contractors and suppliers.