How to Choose a Contractor

Looking to Hire a Contractor? Make Sure to Ask These Questions First

by John Santos, Island Contracting

Is it time to update your kitchen? Or maybe you’re thinking of a beautiful princess tub in a gorgeous marble bathroom. But who is going to do the work? How do you choose the best contractor for the job?Many people enter into agreements with contractors they don’t know well and end up disappointed – or worse – when things don’t go as planned.Hiring a contractor is like hiring anyone else who is going to work in your home or for your business.

Renovation, Reconstruction
Historic home reconstructed by Island Contracting after a catastrophic fire.

You should plan to interview the contractors you are considering, and they should be prepared to answer all of your questions patiently and thoroughly. Here is a list of questions that can help you have the best possible experience with your home improvements.

Is the contractor licensed? Contractors in New York must be licensed by the counties in which they do work. In Nassau County, contractors are licensed by the Office of Consumer Affairs in Mineola. The licensing process ensures that the contractor’s identity and address have been verified, that the company is a properly registered business, and that the necessary insurance is in place – but ask them about their insurance anyway.

Is the contractor properly insured? Contractors should carry two types of insurance: liability insurance, which covers property damage and some injuries, and workers compensation, which provides coverage for the contractor’s employees in the event of on-the-job injury. Without these types of insurance, you could end up having to file a claim against your homeowner’s policy for any incidents that occur on your property and could even have to pay out pocket for what your homeowner’s policy doesn’t cover. Ask to see your contractor’s Certificate of Insurance.

If the contractor uses sub-contractors such as electricians and plumbers, make sure that those businesses are also properly insured, and that the homeowner is listed as additionally insured on the certificates of insurance.

What is the contractor’s process for paperwork and payment? This should include a written contract for you to review and sign, a clear description of the work to be done, the cost and payment terms, and a projection of how long the project will take.

What about permits? Ask if the contractor plans to secure the appropriate permits for the type of work you will have done. Experience working with the Building Department in your municipality – the Town of North Hempstead or Town of Oyster Bay – is helpful and proper permits are a must. If a contractor talks about bypassing or neglecting the permit process, run the other way! The costs will be far greater to you in the long run with increased fees, potential fines, and the challenging process of seeking retroactive permits when the time comes to sell your home.

How will the day-to-day operation of the job be handled? Will the contractor be on site to oversee the project? How and when will the contractor communicate with you regarding progress and possible issues that may arise? How many employees do they have? Will you be seeing the same team throughout the project? And if your contractor is using sub-contractors such as electricians and plumbers, be sure to ask if they have worked together before. And what is the cleanup going to be like on the job site – not just at the end of the project but daily. Will equipment be left on site, and if so, where?

Be sure to ask how long the contractor has been in business and what type of work they typically do. Companies that have been in business for longer, doing the type of work you need, have had the opportunity to develop experience in dealing with the variables and unforeseen circumstances that may arise. Ideally, they also have learned how be on time and on budget.

And to check on the claims of quality, reliability, and punctuality, don’t hesitate to

. Call two or more of their former customers and ask about their experience with the contractor.

And remember, there are scammers out there so be sure to listen to your gut and be suspicious of anyone who shows up at your door offering to do work with “leftover materials,” people who pressure you to make a quick decision, and bids that are unusually low. These people may be looking to take your deposit and disappear.

So ask these questions, and listen to the answers. It may be tempting to go with the lowest price, but in the long run, this could end up costing you far more than going with a reasonably priced, experienced, licensed and insured contractor who will deliver high quality work that will provide you with years of happy enjoyment of your newly customized home.

This article first appeared in Blank Slate Media newspapers on March 2, 2018.

 

 

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