By Paul Bookbinder, M.I.D., C.R.
The mid-term elections are here again and we have to make some tough decisions regarding who will restore our country to its former prominence and glory and speed-up our recovery, or end our steady decline into oblivion, (depending on whom you speak with). Right, Left, In-between! What a choice! Nevertheless, some believe that choosing our new leaders is relatively simple compared with selecting a good contractor. But choosing the right people for a remodeling project is not really as hard as choosing our elected officials. All you have to do is follow a few fundamental rules.
Prior to calling prospective contractors, ask people who have done similar work for referrals. Check with professional organizations, (like the National Kitchen and Bath Association), for members in your area. Call the local department of consumer affairs to find out what type of license is required for the work that you’re considering and make sure that the company you hire is properly licensed. Also, check to see that they have liability insurance and that their workers are covered by both Worker’s Compensation and disability insurance. Many small firms and one-man operations can legally waive this insurance, but if they get hurt on your property it becomes your financial responsibility if they are not covered.
When you have compiled a “short-list” of possible contractors, leave yourself enough time so that you don’t have to rush into a decision. Since you can’t watch them debate on national television, set up a meeting with them to get estimates and, more importantly, see if you feel comfortable with them. Let common sense, one of your most valuable senses, be your guide. The relationship between you and your contractor is the key to a successful job. If you start with someone who doesn’t return calls, shows up late and has no patience for your questions before you hire them, don’t expect much more after you’ve given them a deposit.
When you’ve narrowed it down to a couple of choices, it’s time to check references. Ask the contractor to supply you with the names of people that they have worked for. Of course, just getting the names won’t help you much if you don’t call them.
Lastly, beware of the low bidders. Every time I’ve succumbed to the “best price” for a job at my house I’ve regretted it. As attractive as low bids are, they can be a warning sign that the contractor may be in financial difficulty. He may be desperate to get your deposit in order to pay off bills from a job he has already started. If this is the case he will no doubt run into the same difficulty when he does your job and may have to abandon it due to lack of funds.
Once you have selected a firm, insist on a written contract that specifies exactly what’s going to be done at your home. If you have any doubts…put it in writing. The more explicit the contract and work orders are, the less chance of misunderstandings after the work commences. Reputable firms also use “Change Orders” for any deviations to the original contract which require both you and the contractor to sign. Don’t be afraid of the paperwork, its purpose is to protect both you and the legitimate contractor. Keep in mind that once you sign a contract you have three business days to change your mind. This law was passed so that you don’t fall prey to high-pressure salespeople. You must notify the contractor in writing, within the three days that you wish to cancel, and have proof that you have done so.
If you do your homework, and select a reputable contractor, your project will be a successful one. However, even with a great contractor, don’t expect that any job will go without some glitches. Anyone who promises a major renovation with no problems at all is not being entirely honest, there are just too many variables. But, when you’re dealing with a legitimate contractor any problems that do arise will be dealt with quickly and efficiently, and in the end you will be thankful that you put a little extra effort in selecting them.
Paul Bookbinder, M.I.D., C.R., is president of DreamWork Kitchens, Inc. located in Mamaroneck, New York. A Master of Design (Pratt Institute), and E.P.A. Certified Remodeler, he serves on the Advisory Panel of Remodeling Magazine. A member of the National Kitchen & Bath Assoc., he is also a contributor to eZine and Do It Yourself magazine. He can be reached for questions at 914-777-0437 or www.dreamworkkitchens.com.