You’ve probably heard horror stories of home projects left unfinished by a contractor who turns out not to be able to do the work he promised, or who leaves town and leaves you with a mess. If you’re planning on hiring a contractor, here are seven things you need to know to make sure your project goes as planned.

1. GET A REFERRAL
The best way to ensure success on your home project is to find a friend who loved the work done by a contractor, and contact that contractor. If you don’t know anyone who has used a contractor, contact the Better Business Bureau or your state’s attorney general’s office. If you’re still at a loss, use the phone book, but be sure to ask a lot of questions.

2. SCREEN POSSIBLE CONTRACTORS FIRST
Before someone comes to your home, you should ask several questions on the phone. First, you’ll want to make sure they offer the service you need. Then, you should ask if they provide free estimates (this is common). Also, find out if they have liability insurance, worker’s compensation and a license. And find out if they are a part of a professional association.

3. TALK TO AT LEAST THREE CONTRACTORS FOR ESTIMATES
You’ll want to get estimates in writing. And you definitely want to make sure you have time to make the right decision, so don’t let anyone sell you on the spot. Price isn’t everything, so when considering estimates, examine exactly what the estimate is for. Make sure you know what you’ll be getting in the end.

4. TAKE NOTES
When you’re speaking to a contractor, make sure to write down the answers to your questions. And use separate pieces of paper for each contractor, so you can compare the answers after you’ve talked to at least three contractors. If you don’t understand something, ask questions until you do. It’s better to really know what someone is saying and feel a little silly asking a question than to be surprised later.

5. MEET WITH A POTENTIAL CONTRACTOR
Ask to see documentation of licenses, insurance and worker’s comp. Also ask for a written estimate. Ask to see examples of similar projects the contractor has worked on. For exterior work, get addresses, so you can see the work for yourself. Don’t just look at pictures. Ask to speak to people the contractor has worked for in the past. When speaking to a contractor, be specific about what you want. Discuss bids in detail with each contractor to make sure you understand the work the contractor is basing his estimate on.

6. INVESTIGATE
Call the insurance company to make sure the policy is still active. Check with the Better Business Bureau, the attorney general’s office, the state licensing board and the Chamber of Commerce. Make sure you call references and speak to the people who have had work done on their homes.You’ll want to find out how long the contractor has been in the business, what complaints have been filed and responsiveness to those complaints.

7. MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICE
Once you have three contractors who are reputable, how do you choose? You’ll want to consider the contractor’s experience, warranty and accessibility. And you’ll want to take into account who made you feel comfortable and took the time to answer questions and helped you understand the process.

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