Happy Valentine's Day. No, this isn't a dating column, just a guide to navigating that often sticky personal connection -- the one between you and the man or woman you choose to update your living quarters, your home improvement contractor. Over the past year, I've spoken to literally hundreds of homeowners about their experience with household renovation and remodels. They offer a wealth of real-world advice on how to find a contractor you'll love ... or at least have a great working relationship with. Find out more with the following 10 tips.
Think, think, think. Before a major project such as redoing a kitchen, get clear about what you (and your partner, if you're coupled) want. Consider questions like "small kitchen remodel or a complete overhaul?", "top-of-the-line quartz countertops or easy-on-the-wallet laminate?", and so on. Besides brainstorming ideas for the kitchen of your dreams, take into account your budget and your timeline. This will allow you to present your contractor with a reasonably organized plan.
Do your homework. Shop around to find out prices and ratings for both typical labor costs and item(s) you're going to have installed, whether it be plumbing fixtures, flooring, or a new HVAC system. Save remodel inspirations you particularly like to a Pinterest board. Once again, you'll be preparing yourself to discuss your wants with the contractor you eventually hire.
Read contractor reviews. Look for remodeling contractors whose customers have (mostly) glowing reports. When the occasional problem is mentioned, check out how it was dealt with. An unresolved issue -- or even worse, one that degenerated into a bout of online name-calling -- is an obvious red flag.
Keep it legal. Protect yourself; negotiate only with remodelers who provide proof that they are licensed, bonded, and fully insured. To double check whether a contractor's license is valid, do a quick search of your state government's website listings.
Get more than one estimate. Request multiple estimates so you can choose the remodeler with the best deal -- not necessarily the lowest price, but the one that will give you the most for your money. Make sure important information such as brand names and model numbers of any materials and appliances is included.
Ask questions. This is where your advance research comes in handy. Based on what you've learned, ask your potential hire questions about all the details -- for instance, scheduling or warranties -- upfront. That way when you make your decision, you won't be comparing apples to oranges.
Check with past customers. Contact local clients to find out more about how a particular remodeler performed. Request references, but also investigate via sources like neighborhood e-bulletin boards. Look at examples of past work and see for yourself whether it has held up over time.
Listen to your feelings. This one point is mentioned over and over by homeowners from all walks of life -- not just the retired trial lawyer or the bank loan officer. Pay attention to the instinct which tells you "here's a contractor that cares about customers" or the opposite, "stay away from this one!" Don't use this as the sole basis for your hiring decision, of course, but if all other factors check out, it's fine to go with your gut.
Write a contract. When you make a deal with the contractor you've chosen, put a ring on it, so to speak. Hash out a contract that includes a description of the remodeling services to be performed; supplies to be used; responsibility for pulling permits; dates of essential milestones; and payment terms. Have both parties sign before any cash ever changes hands.
Share the love. When you successfully complete a home remodel with a contractor who's a keeper, let the world know. Post online reviews telling exactly why you love this guy or gal's work.
-- Laura Firszt writes for networx.com.