Hiring a Contractor

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Hiring A Contractor

What Kind of Contractor do you Need?

Do you have damage to your house? Do you want to remodel? Want to put on an addition? Unless you know construction, you will want to hire a contractor to do the work for you.

A general contractor will be able to handle almost every aspect of construction. A specialty contractor will just do one or possible two construction trades, such as painting, roofing, framing, or finish carpentry. These are just to name a few. Who you need to hire will depend on the scope of your job.

If you just need some holes in your walls repaired, you could use a specialty contractor who does drywall. The same applies if you need a new roof, you can hire a contractor who just does roofing. This will apply whenever the work you require to be done only involves one trade.

If the work you want done will require more than one trade, you need to hire a general contractor. A couple of examples of when you would need a general contractor would be as follows.

You need a new roof, but there is also structural damage that needs to be repaired such as broken trusses or rafters. Now you are dealing with more than one trade. Most roofing contractors would not be qualified to do structural work, where as a general contractor would be qualified to do all the work.

Another example would be if you want to add a room to your house. Then you need a general contractor as well. A job such as this will require knowledge of several trades. Foundations, framing, siding, roofing, drywall, and electrical, just to name a few.

Think about what will be involved in doing your job and then decide what type of contractor you want to hire. A specialty contractor may be cheaper if you just need one trade involved in your job, but if it requires more, a general contractor will be able to do the entire job.

Whichever type of contractor you hire, be sure that he (or she) is knowledgeable in his (or her) field.

You are ready to get estimates

When hiring a contractor, write down what you need done. As the contractors come to your home to give you estimates, you want to be sure that you tell them each the same things that you want done. That way you will be making a comparison of estimates on the exact same work. It is very important that you do not tell the contractors different things, because then you will receive estimates that are covering different things. Therefore you will not be able to make a proper comparison when deciding which contractor to hire.

If you are unsure of what has to be done to do your repairs or remodeling project, ask the contractors. Tell them what you want the end result to be. Then ask them what they feel will need to be done to achieve this. Ask questions. Gather as much knowledge as you can about your project.

Make sure that the contractors give you a free estimate. You should never have to pay for an estimate. Make sure you get not only the price, but also what type of materials they plan on using. Make sure the contractors include a description of what they will be doing.

Here is an example to show you how to compare estimates:

You need to roof your house. You call some roofing contractors and two come out to give you an estimate. You have told them both that you want the old roof torn off and replaced.

A) The first contractor gives you an estimate to tear off the roof and replace it with 3-tab roofing. The total cost is $3,500.

B) The second contractor gives you an estimate to tear off the roof and replace it with a laminated shingle. The total cost is again, $3,500.

You now need to decide which is the better deal. They are offering to do the same work, but they are putting on a different product. Now you need to find out which is a better product. You can easily do this by calling a company that sells materials. Most will be glad to tell you about the different products. It is better to call this outside source about the quality of materials than asking the contractors. The outside source will be more apt to give you objective advise about the products.

In this scenario, the better estimate would be "B". The laminated shingle is a far better roof. Also, 3-tab roofing is very vague. It could be a very cheep 20 year roof or at its best a 25 year roof. A laminated shingle is at least a 25 year roof. On the average it costs a couple of hundred dollars more than the 3-tab. A place that sells roofing materials will be able to tell you abut the different types of roofing that are available.

A good estimate should look something like this:
Tear off old roof and remove debris.
Lay 15 lb. felt paper for vapor barrier
Replace pipe flashing
Replace roof vents
Replace edge metal
Re-roof with 25-Year laminated shingle.
Color: Weathered White
Plywood not included.
Total cost including tax: $****.**

This estimate has itemized everything that is to be done and the material to be used. No matter what type of job you are having done, you will want to have everything itemized like this. That way both you and the contractor know exactly what is to be done.

Remember, you should get several bids, at least three. Don't sign with the first contractor that shows up. Always check all the estimates over and choose the one that will be right for you. This may not always be the cheapest one. Remember to compare the materials to be used and the work to be done. Don't rush into anything.

A couple of notes on roofing, seeing as how everyone eventually needs a new roof. You can have a re-cover done on a lot of roofs. This is where the old roof will not be torn off. The new roof will be put on top of the existing roof. Be sure your roof will be able to handle the extra weight. Contact your city or state building inspector to find out the codes for this in your state. Codes vary from state to state. Some states will allow three layers of roofing while others will allow only two. If a re-cover is possible, it is a cheaper route to go.

Another thing to watch out for is the type of decking (plywood) that you have. Some of the older homes that have wood shingles have space sheeting. For a good contractor, this is very obvious and he (or she) will tell you up front that you will need plywood and put it in their estimate. You will also need new plywood if what you have is rotted, or has weak spots. There are many contractors out there that will give you a low estimate knowing they will make up for it on the plywood that they didn't tell you about . You can cheek if you have space sheeting by shining a flash light into your attic. You will either see plywood or 1x4's with a space between them. If you have 1x4's, this is space sheeting.

Interview and References

Here is a list of questions you should ask all contractors you plan on getting an estimate from:

1) Are you licensed?
2) Are you bonded and insured?
3) Are you a member of the Better Business Bureau?
4) How long have you been in business?
5) How long will it be before you can start the job?
6) How long will it take to complete the job?
7) Do you have references?
8) Do you have any before and after pictures of jobs you have done?
9) If they have pictures, ask for the address so you can drive by to view the work.
10) What is your contractor's number?
11) When you start, will you be staying on the job daily until it is done?
12) Will you get a building permit to do the work?
13) Do you guarantee your work?
14) How long is your guarantee good for?

Call the references, ask these questions:

1) Did the contractor do a good job?
2) Did they stick to the agreement? Where there other charges that came up during the job?
3) What did the contractor do for you?
4) Would you recommend this contractor?

Call The Better Business Bureau, ask these questions:

1) Are there any complaints on this contractor?
2) If yes, has the contractor take care of them?
3) How long have you had a record of them?

Negotiate and Save

When you have received the estimates from the contractors, compare them side-by-side. This is one reason you need to tell all the contractors the same thing. If you do not tell them all the same thing, you will not be able to make a proper comparison.

Compare the work to be performed and the materials to be used first. Then compare the prices. Most contractors will negotiate. Some will throw in extra work and some will come down on their price. Construction is a very competitive market. You can have fun with this part, but don't get greedy. Expect to pay for quality work.

Here are a couple of examples of negotiation:

A) The contractor's price is $12,545.95. The other estimate you received was at $10,785.95. You would prefer to hire the first contractor. Call and ask if he (or she) will match the price of the other contractor. A lot of times they will as long as their price is for the same work and materials. If he (or she) does, then you get the contractor you wanted and save $1,669.00. Not bad for a call that took you about ten minutes.

B) You have two contractors give you the same price, but the first contractor has said they will also fix the door that sticks and replace the trim around it for no extra charge. This sounds good, but you like the other contractor better. Call the other contractor and ask if they will throw in the extra work, too. Maybe they will even replace the broken pane of glass in the garage door. The most they can do is say no, but you won't know unless you ask.

You can and should always ask for a discount. They may say yes, they may say no. Remember, you won't get anything if you don't ask.

Your contract should include all the work to be done and materials to be used. If the contractor has said they will throw in extra work, get it on the contract. Remember to get everything in writing before you sign. Make sure all the blanks are filled. Never leave an empty blank on any contract. If it doesn't apply then put in N/A (not applicable). This goes for any type of contract you may sign.

Senior Discounts

Some contractors say they offer senior discounts. Unfortunately, a lot of times they put the price up higher and then put on a "discount". To get a true discount, never ask for the discount up front.

Wait until you get your estimate, then look it over to see if the discount is clearly on the estimate. Remember you have not asked for it yet, so it most likely won&'t be there. Some contractors will automatically give the discount even though you haven't asked for it. If it is on the estimate, ask how it was figured. It should be as follows:

Sub-total $****.**

Sr. Discount -***.**

Total ****.**

Tax ***.**

Total Due $****.**

Tax should be charged on the total after the discount has been given.

If you didn't get a discount, now is the time to ask for it. Ask if the contractor gives a percentage discount on a flat rate discount. Then ask him (or her) to take it off the sub-total and re-figure the tax. This way you know you are getting a true discount and that the price is not being raised to show a discount.

Some contractors don't give a senior discount. Don't be discouraged by this, they may still be a very good contractor and give you a good estimate.

Remember you will be able to negotiate still. Just because you get a senior discount doesn't mean you can't negotiate the price.

Doing a final walk through

After you have hired a contractor and the work has been completed, you should ask the contractor to do a final walk through with you. This is important. You and the contractor will then see together any problems there may be that need to be taken care of before you make your final payment.

Write down any and all problems that you want taken care of . Have the contractor sign that he (or she) will take care of the problems. If you have any concerns with the contractor's work, be sure to discuss them with the contractor. Don't wait until the contractor thinks he is done and asks for the final payment before telling him (or her) about the problems. Doing a final walk through with the contractor, you can show the contractor any concerns you may have.

If you have a big job being done, it would be a good idea to do this a couple of times during the job. This way you will know what is happening on the job and it will keep the lines of communication between you and the contractor open . The contractor will be able to explain different stages of the work and you will be able to voice any of your concerns.

When the job is completed and any of the problems that were found have been fixed, walk through again. You will want to be sure the job has been done properly before you make your final payment.

Getting a Waver of Lien

When making your final payment to the contractor, be sure to get a waver of lien. A contractor can put a lien on your house for any work done that has not been paid for. Any sub-contractor that the contractor hires to do work on your house can also put a lien on your house if the contractor does not pay him (or her) for the work he (or she) did.

The waver of lien should be signed by the contractor and any sub-contractors that did work on your house. This is usually done when the job is completed. Most contractors will do this at the time they receive your final payment. Be sure you tell the contractor that you want a waiver of lien signed when you give him (or her) your final payment. Do not pay until the waver is provided. It will protect you from liens being put on your property.

Remember, if the contractor had sub-contractors do work for you, to have their signatures on the waver of lien as well as the contractor's. Always protect yourself.


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