Contractor 101

Budget & Planning >

Some homeowners may be thinking about putting money into long-delayed remodeling of kitchens and bathrooms or finally mending that leaky roof. Before rushing into a project, it’s smart to carefully research and interview any contractor who might handle the job.

“The No. 1 complaint [in terms of] home improvement that we receive is that a contractor walked away and took the homeowner money,” says Janet Ahmad, president of HomeOwners for Better Building, San Antonio, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping homeowners resolve construction complaints.

With so much at stake, finding the right contractor can raise a number of questions for a homeowner. Greg Miedema, a remodeling expert who is executive officer of Home Builders Association of Northern Colorado, and Therese Crahan, executive director of NAHB remodelers, and Ahmad weigh in on the discussion.

HSW: Should an attorney look over the contract before work starts?

Ahmad: Yes, you’ll eliminate a lot of contractors by hiring an attorney.

Miedema: I’m not sure of the benefit of having an attorney looking at it, if you're working with a professional remodeler. On the other hand, a professional remodeler shouldn't object because they know the contract is in good order.

HSW: Who should take out the building permit?

Ahmad: For big jobs, the contractor, not you, should apply for the building permit. If the homeowner gets the permit and something goes wrong, or a fly-by-night contractor walks off the job, it’s the homeowner who will be held responsible.

Miedema: It depends on level of involvement of homeowner. But whoever submits the plan has the obligation to correct the plans as needed as result of the building department’s comments.

HSW: What kind of references should you ask for from a contractor?

Miedema: Besides doing a reference check, check the Better Business Bureau and local licensing agency or regulatory body. Also ask the remodeler for his subcontractor’s names. Another good source is the contractor’s vendors, such as the lumber yard. Also be sure to do your gut check. Do you want that person in your house five or six months?

Ahmad: For any complaints, I would check with the local authorities that issue permits. Or go to the courthouse for complaints that have been filed.

HSW: Should the contractor be bonded?

Ahmad: If they are not bonded, don’t do business with them. They should provide proof that they are bonded and that homeowner will collect on the bond if they fail to complete their job.

Crahan: Yes, but what the homeowner has to understand is what they are being bonded for.