10 Tips on Hiring and Working with a Contractor
Working with a home contractor can be a stressful experience. These tips can help make your home improvement project a success.
- Look for experience.
- 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 their phone during the day, or return phone calls immediately, the time and effort the contractor takes in communicating with you may show their attention to details and desire to please.
- Check to see if the contractor is licensed. The Maryland Home Improvement Commission licenses home improvement contractors in the state.
- The Maryland Home Improvement Commission has information about whether a license is required.
- Ask for references.
- Don't be shy about asking for references from satisfied customers or other professionals in related building trades.
- Contact the references and ask questions. Examples include: Are they satisfied with the contractor's services? Did they have any problems? Was the work completed on time? How did the contractor handle complaints?
- Get multiple bids/quotes.
- Ask lots of questions.
- Talk to at least two contractors.
- If possible, get price bids (quotes) from at least two contractors.
- The bids should include information about the work that's supposed to be done and the materials that will be used.
- Generally, the contractor will get the required building permits. Ask about this.
- Compare knowledge, quality of work, responsiveness to requests for information about materials and alternatives in style and design.
- Deposits: A contractor cannot accept more than 1/3 of the contract price as a deposit.
- Check for customer complaints.
- Call the Maryland Home Improvement Commission: 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.
- You can also email the Maryland Home Improvement Commission: DLOPLMHIC-DLLR@maryland.gov
- You can also file complaints against a contractor at their website.
- Ask for proof of insurance. The contractor should have personal liability insurance, workers' compensation insurance, and property damages coverage. You can call the insurance companies to verify coverage.
- Expect fees. It is reasonable for the contractor to include charges such as:
- a 10% surcharge above actual costs for materials;
- a small fee for a credit check (Don't be offended if the contractor protector their business by inquiring about your credit-worthiness and ability to pay.);
- interest or finance charges if payments are not received on schedule; and
- attorneys' fees and collection costs if full payment is not received. See including options other than a lawsuit for resolving disputes.
- 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 in writing.
- 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.
- 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.
- Read the fine print!
- The Maryland Home Improvement Commission has specific requirements for home improvement contracts.
- The contract should contain the approximate dates for the performance of work and when work should be substantially completed
Suzanne Hood, attorney at law, Easton, MD; edited by Rene LaVigne; updated by Web Services Librarian.