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Spring is Coming: How to Hire Contractors for Home Improvement Projects

House Under Renovation

We are still in the midst of winter, but now is the time to start planning for spring upgrades, repairs, and projects. Warmer weather will be here soon (I promise!), so it is best to be prepared to take advantage of our limited warm months. Preparation and planning now can make any project go smoother.

 

START THE PROCESS NOW

First and perhaps most importantly, start the process of booking contractors, electricians, or other experts as soon as possible. Many may already be booked until the fall, so getting in early is the best way to go about it if you are able. What follows are tips to help guide you through that process so that you can get your project done on time and on budget.

 

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Do your research on whomever you hire. Ask friends or coworkers who they would recommend, look for reviews online of that contractor’s work, and, if possible, look for examples of that contractor’s work from years past. Make sure the contractor is appropriately licensed in their field. This may vary but in Vermont, contractors are licensed by trade.

Get a quote before work begins to avoid surprise expenses later on in the project. Of course, you can’t avoid every pitfall—the contractor may open up a wall and find some unforeseen damage, for example—so it’s important to factor unexpected costs into your project budget.

You’ll also want to shop around for the best price, but if one contractor has a higher price, make sure to ask questions. There may be a good reason, and cheapest doesn’t always mean best. Going the absolute cheapest route might mean that the materials being used are subpar, that the quality of workmanship won’t be very good, or both. As a result, what’s cheap now may cost you down the road if you need to redo shoddy work.

 

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ASK, ASK, ASK

I’m going to reiterate the importance of asking questions. As the old adage goes, “There are no dumb questions.” More information will always be helpful. To get you started, here are some useful questions to ask contractors whom you’re considering (a non-exhaustive list):

  • Are you insured?
  • Can you provide references?
  • Will this project require a permit?
  • How long will the project take?
  • What might come up that could increase the cost?

 

REVIEW THE CONTRACT CAREFULLY

Get a written contract that spells out the costs, states that the contractor will clean up the site when they are done, details how to deal with any required permitting, and covers everything that may have been previously discussed. Keep all the appropriate records, including a copy of the quote, contract, and any receipts for payments. When the work is done, inspect the final product while the contractor is still there in case something was missed. Check to see that the site has been properly cleaned of any debris before they leave.

 

WATCH OUT FOR SCAMS

Most scams can be avoided by following the above advice: ask questions, do research, get references. If something does go wrong—for example, if the work is not up to par or they didn’t follow part of the contract—start by trying to work with the contractor to find a solution. Most disputes can be resolved easily—after all, you may be a reference for their future work, so they will most likely want you to be a satisfied customer. If all else fails, you can reach out to your local consumer protection office or the State Attorney General.

 

DO IT YOURSELF?

For some projects, the tried-and-true DIY method is completely reasonable. However, it is important to remember that there are certain projects not to mess around with unless you happen to be a licensed expert yourself. Know your limits!

With that said, last summer my father and I built a new garage door. It was a fun project that involved designing a folding door that would swing out on both sides, cutting all the pieces to size, and then assembling it. There was a little trial and error along the way, and a couple of trips to the hardware store when we realized that we didn’t have a tool that we needed. Overall, though, our little project came out well and worked just the way we hoped. We were able to keep the cost down by purchasing all the materials and doing all the labor ourselves. It also gave us the satisfaction of puzzling through challenges and spending some good quality time working together.

Whether you’re doing the project yourself or researching and hiring a contractor, the time to start planning is now.

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