1. Look for experience. First, you'll want to select a contractor with direct experience in the type of project you have in mind. While a busy professional might not answer his phone himself during the day, or return phone calls immediately, the time and effort he takes in communicating with you may show his attention to details and desire to please.
  2. Don't be shy about asking for references from satisfied customers or other professionals in related building trades.
  3. Talk to at least two contractors. If at all possible, get price bids (quotes) from at least two contractors. Ask questions, lots of questions. Compare knowledge, quality of work, responsiveness to requests for information about materials and alternatives in style and design.
  4. Check for customer complaints - Call 410-230-6309 or 1-888-218-5925. Ask if complaints have been filed against a contractor and whether they have been resolved or are still open. Search for a licensed home improvement contractor - The Maryland Home Improvement Commission licenses home improvement contractors in the state. You can also file complaints against a contractor at their website.
  5. Don't be offended if the contractor protects his business by inquiring about your credit-worthiness and ability to pay.
  6. Expect fees. It is reasonable for the contractor to include charges such as:
  7. Decide how to resolve disputes. Before any work begins, ask how you might resolve a dispute that continues beyond a few days and exceeds a certain amount of money. Will the contractor agree to submit the dispute to a mediator, sharing the costs with you, according to pre-arranged proportions? Get this promise in writing.
  8. Always put changes in writing. If the contractor promises something, ask to have it in writing. Or write up the promised item yourself and ask the builder to initial your writing. The best way is to add it to the written contract. If both of you sign the change, it is clear that you both agree. This makes it a binding contract that you can enforce.
  9. When to consider a review by an attorney: If the project costs exceed an amount you consider large (and definitely for jobs over $10,000) consider having the contract reviewed by an attorney. In Maryland, many lawyers can review a simple contract for $100-$200. This is worth the price to avoid much greater expenses if problems should arise later on.
  10. Read the fine print!


Suzanne Hood, attorney at law, Easton, MD edited by Rene LaVigne

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