How Do I Choose a Contractor?

Remodeling a home is rarely a breeze, but you can increase the odds it will go smoothly by doing some homework.

Here's a checklist:

Get personal recommendations: Ask contractors who've been recommended by family, friends or neighbors, and research the contractors' complaint records with government and private consumer agencies.

Get several written estimates from the recommended contractors.

Check with your municipality about whether permits are required for your remodeling job.

Call your state's Department of Professional Regulation to make sure the contractor is properly licensed.

Ask the contractor for proof of insurance for liability and worker's comp, and confirm that he or she has a permanent place of business. Ask whether the work is guaranteed, and if so, for how long.

Take your time. Don't be swayed by high-pressure sales tactics. Call the contractor's references.

Ask about supervision and quality control. Who will be checking on the work the employees perform, and how often?

The contract should include: the contractor's full name, address and phone number; a description of the work including as many specific materials as possible; the start date and expected completion date; and the payment schedule including the deposit amount.

The contract also should state the grounds for termination of the contract (if, for example, the contractor fails to start the job or doesn't complete it within the contracted time period).

The contract also should include a lien waiver, to prevent any unpaid subcontractors or suppliers from coming after you.

Never sign a blank contract or one you don't understand. And if you're getting a bank loan for the work, make sure the loan is approved before you sign on with a contractor.

If the contract was signed in your home, you have three days in which to cancel (under the Federal Trade Commission's Cooling-Off Rule for off-premises sales). The contractor can't take away this right by starting the job.

Never pay for the entire job up front. Legitimate contactors will require a deposit to start work, with scheduled payments as the work progresses. Never make the final payment or sign a certificate of completion until the job is finished and you're satisfied with the quality.

Home repair is one of the largest complaint categories at consumer agencies and there are many outright scams. Save your sanity and avoid door-to-door sales people who offer to do inexpensive work with supplies "left over from another job." Ditto for contractors who demand cash payments upfront.

Source: Illinois Attorney General, National Roofing Contractors Association

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