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Selecting a Home Improvement Contractor

Professional advice about how to select a home improvement contractor

Posted by George Lonergan , May 21, 2013 at 01:41 AM--Framingham Patch



It’s that time of year when the snow melts and we get outside and notice what the winter weather has done to our homes. Unfortunately, it’s also the time of year when many contractors take advantage of homeowners who don’t have the same level of knowledge that they do.


Here are some tips that can help you select the contractor that right for your project.  I would recommend that you interview three firms for every project and that you base your interview choices on the following criteria:


REPUTATION:  Have they been recommended by someone you know who has had work done by them. Being a friend of a friend doesn’t make someone responsible, qualified or honest.


LICENSES:  You want a contractor with a Construction Supervisor’s License (CSL). There are multiple levels of this license which allow the individuals to perform specific tasks. Unrestricted licensure is the highest rating an individual can hold in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Architect is the next level above this. Verify with your contractor that they hold the appropriate level of license for the work they will be doing at your home.


A Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) license requires no training and just involves filling out an application and paying a fee. It allows the contractor to do replacement windows and roof shingles. This license does not allow for any structural items to be repaired or replaced. This is the license that a lot of handymen hold.


FULLY INSURED:  Make sure that the company is fully insured. That means that they have liability and workers compensation insurance. After you have selected your contractor, request that they provide you with a Certificate of Insurance for both workers compensation and liability policies and review the dollar amounts of coverage.  Depending upon the scope of work, low coverage amounts could be a problem.


Review the workers compensation certificate for which and how many workers are covered.  There have been instances where the owner was covered and the workers weren’t. When an injury occurred, the homeowner was left holding the bag.


If a homeowner hires a contractor with inadequate insurance the homeowner is responsible for any property damage and more importantly is financial responsible for any person working on the job who gets injured, this includes medical costs, recovery costs and lost wages.


PERMITS:  The person you hire and have the contract with should be the one applying for the permits.  Do not apply yourself or allow sub-contractors to apply for permits. Doing this can muddy the water regarding who is legally liable forissues. You are better protected with clean lines between the permit holder, the owner of the insurance and the company doing the work.


REFERENCES:  Ask for three references from previous customers for whom the contractor has recently done work.  You’ll want to make sure that these customers aren’t relatives of the contractor. Then call these people and ask them what work they had done, how details were handled and if there were problems were they rectified without difficulty.


You also want to find about out the ease of contacting and working with
the contractor. Preferably, these clients had work done that was similar in scope to what you were planning.


You might also contact the local building department to inquire about
previous permits and project completion issues.


Checkwith local business affiliates to verify whether there is a membership and that the contractor is a member in good standing.


TRUST YOUR GUT:  If you don’t feel completely comfortable dealing with the contractor during the interview; don’t select them. This is a business relationship and you need to be able to communicate freely.


If you have an invasive or large project, you will be living with this contractor and their workers in and around your home and family for quite some time. If you don’t have a good relationship when they are trying to get your business; it’s only going to get worse once they have your deposit in hand.


WORKERS’ BACKGROUNDS:  Have their employees or sub-contractors had background checks? These people will have access to your home and interact with your family. Make sure the contractor knows who they’re working with.


SELECTING A BID:  When you are comparing bids, make sure that you are measuring apples against apples. If one contractor is quoting pressure treated wood and another is quoting composite material for a deck, the prices are going be different, but so is the value that you will receive. Many professionals will suggest that if all else is equal, you should select the middle bid.


GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING:  Make it clear that you need all project details in writing and will need documentation with pricing for every change associated with the project as well.


PAYMENT SCHEDULE:  The industry standard for payment is 1/3 up front, 1/3 at the half-way point and the final 1/3 at completion. If a contractor wants the entire payment up front; you probably want a different contractor. If you still have a punch list of minor work that needs to be completed, it is acceptable to withhold a portion of the final payment until that is done.


There are no guarantees in life; but if you do your homework up front, you are much more likely to avoid problems down the road and end up with a completed project that you are happy with.

Since 1996, George Lonergan, has been President of Lonergan Construction, Inc., a full-service, fully licensed and insured general contracting firm serving eastern and central Massachusetts. He can be reached 508-875-0052 or


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation.

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