Finding a quality home improvement contractor is not always easy. Anybody can sell you on something that sounds great, but how can you know if you’re really dealing with a quality company? Home improvement companies come in all varieties, from shysters to newbies to companies that have been in business for decades. These ten tips will help you pick out the best fit for you no matter what kind of company, from a replacement window contractor to a roofer, you may need.
1) Does the company offer free estimates?
Never go with a company that doesn’t value a relationship with you enough to do a free estimate. When you pick a company you’ll be spending quite a bit of money with them, so they should be willing to invest a bit of time in you.
2) Does the company offer an honest estimate? Is it detailed?
Many people don’t know that there’s a difference between an estimate and a bid. A bid is a legally binding statement, while an estimate is not. Some unscrupulous companies will pitch a too-low estimate to sell to you then and then hit you on the back end with “fees” they tacked on. If you get detailed, realistic prices and time frames, you increase the odds that it’s an honest estimate. In addition, the detailed estimate gives you legal recourse if the company does work you didn’t authorize.
3) What kind of customer guarantee does the home improvement company give?
How long do you have to report problems? What kind of certification can a given home improvement contractor give you on his or her workers? What kind and quality of materials do they use? You should be asking these questions in the initial meeting and get it in writing on any contract. If the answers are vague or deceptive, run.
4) How willing is the company to work with your schedule?
Of course, you don’t necessarily want people in your home you don’t know. However, some home improvement jobs can take several days or even a couple of weeks? If the job is only on the outside, say you’re getting a roof replaced, you don’t necessarily have to be there. However, if entering your home is required, are they willing to work with your schedule?
5) Is the contractor insured, and what protection do you get out of it? Do you have any liability?
Let’s say you’re having your roof fixed and a worker falls off into your bushes, breaking his or her arm. Who’s responsible for taking that worker to the hospital, who’s responsible for paying the bill, and who ultimately is liable for what? Any decent company is insured and does not hold you liable for accidents common in the line of work. Get all liability spelled out in the contract.
6) Is the contractor truly knowledgeable in the area you want improved?
If you’re wanting energy-efficient windows replaced then a “general contractor” who’s done roofing for fifteen years probably is not the right contractor for you. Make sure the home improvement contractor you pick has plenty of in-depth detailed experience with the specific improvements you’re having done.
7) Does the company belong to the local Better Business Bureau?
BBB seals don’t always mean a lot on the Internet, but they still pull their weight locally. If, for instance, you live in Cincinnati, Ohio and you want to know a contractor’s worth, the contractor that’s part of the local Better Business Bureau has been around for years and has a reputation to maintain, while one who isn’t may be a fly-by-night company.
8) Does the company offer financing? If so, is it legitimate?
Some companies are large enough to be able to offer their own financing. Others don’t want to deal with the headache of an entire finance department. If contractor-provided financing is important to you, be clear on that when first talking to contractors. If one offers you financing, check it out thoroughly. Are they doing it in house? Do they have an arrangement with a bank? Do they charge a reasonable interest rate or too high? When do payments start? Any financing is, at heart, the extension of a line of credit. If the company isn’t doing the same checks as a credit card company, look twice.
9) Does the contractor have offices you can visit?
Some contractors are one-person specialist affairs and may even work out of a home office, while others are larger companies with their own offices. No matter what kind or size of contractor you’re dealing with, you should be able to visit an office. You’re not going to get home improvement from a company across the country, you’re going to get it locally. Therefore, their physical offices should be accessible and professional. If you can’t visit their office the company could easily be a fly-by-night operation to take your deposit and disappear.
10) Can you get references you can look up and call on your own? Would any references be willing to have you visit to see examples of the home improvement company’s work?
This one should be a no-brainer, but all too often it’s a detail that gets overlooked in the furor of home improvement contracting. Can you see examples of their work? Can to talk to people they’ve done work for in the past? Just one reference doesn’t cut it, nor do three who you can’t find in the phone book. Anyone can pretend to be three different people, and it’s easy to get call forwarding for three different numbers.