Get the Best Deal From Your Contractor


In life’s list of stomach-churning experiences, squaring off against household contractors ranks right up there with root canal and being a Detroit Lions season-ticket holder.

To avoid any pain, and get quality work and fair treatment from a home contractor, take a two-pronged approach: Do your homework and craft a services agreement that has your best interest in mind.

Do your homework.
Before you can negotiate, you need to evaluate. Ask around among family, neighbors and co-workers – word of mouth may be your best ally in finding a great contractor. Other good sources for information include your local Better Business Bureau and your Chamber of Commerce. The latter pair are better used after you’ve found potential contractors – checking their credentials with a reputable business association increases your chances of landing a good contractor and a fair deal.

Pare down your list.
When you start interviewing contractors, do so face-to-face. It may seem old-fashioned but you get the real measure of a contractor by meeting in person. During the interview, find out how they work, what hours they’ll be on the job, and what ideas they’re bringing to your project. Also, request references. Any hesitation is a big red flag – a real pro should be happy to provide references on the spot. Also, ask for proof that the contractor is licensed, bonded, and insured. With your money on the line, a verbal confirmation just isn’t good enough.

Now, negotiate.
Start by asking the contractor what the project will cost. Even a ballpark figure will help, and get it in writing. When you discuss a bid, make sure it includes materials and labor. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll know what other contractors charge and can use that information to bolster your own case. It might just bring the price down, once your contractor knows you’ve asked around.

Be precise.
When you write your contract, be specific. The more exact your language, the easier it is to hold the contractor accountable for what’s been promised. Instead of stating “install floors,” opt for “install mahogany hardwood floors."

Keep up-front costs low.
Never put more than one-third of the total project cost down up front. Insist on 10% and stand firm. One last point: don’t accept a bid just because it’s the lowest. The only way a contractor can make money on the cheap is by cutting corners. And that leads to defective work.

Just because work begins on your home doesn’t mean you’re done negotiating. Chances are other issues will crop up: scheduling snafus, unreasonable or unexplained delays and one underrated bugaboo – clean-up costs. Make sure you have an agreement where the project fee includes those factors too. Also, remember the old Woody Allen line that 90% of life is just showing up? Take that to heart. You’ll want to be there when big things are happening, like a new hardwood floor being laid or the installation of a new marble bathtub. Better to get in front of issues before they become problems.

Remember, times are tough and you have more leverage than you think. Contractors aren’t in the driver’s seat, so don’t be shy about getting exactly what you want from your contractor.

Because, never forget, they’re going to try and get the best deal out of you.

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