Hiring a contractor is a big step in any home improvement project. Whether you’re looking for someone to do a small repair or planning an addition to your home, it’s important to make sure you’ve hired someone you can trust to do the job. To help you get your project off to a good start, we’ve pulled together some tips to consider when you’re getting ready to hire someone for home repairs.
Most contractors are reputable businesspeople, but a few may not really be there to help. For instance, someone posing as a contractor may try to take advantage of you after a storm or natural disaster has affected your community and damaged your home. These opportunists try to persuade you that you have roof damage or other problems that need to be repaired right away, then pressure you to pay up front and disappear after they take your money, rush you into signing a contract that is not a good deal for you, or otherwise try to take advantage of you when you’re vulnerable.
Other troubles between the contractor and homeowner may stem from miscommunication about the project costs, timeline or scope of work. Your project has a better chance of going well when you do some research and planning up front.
Contractor hiring tips for homeowners
Your home is an expensive investment, so it’s only natural that you’ll want a licensed and highly skilled contractor to do the work. To get started, get referrals from family and friends, then call the recommended contractors and ask questions:
- How long have you been in business?
- How many projects did you do in the past year?
- Do you belong to a trade association? (Membership shows their support of a business code of ethics.)
- Do you have the required licenses?
Licensing offers you some assurance that a contractor has met certain industry standards and is permitted to perform the work. Contractor license requirements vary across the state of New York, so it’s best to do a search at the local level. Contractors in Buffalo, New York City and the counties of Nassau, Suffolk, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester are required to have a license, according to the New York State Department of Financial Services.
In general, you should be skeptical of a contractor who knocks on your door, calls you on the phone and pressures you to sign a contract immediately. Avoid contractors who tell you that there is no need for a written contract. By law in New York, all contracts for $500 or more must be in writing. Even for smaller projects, you may still want to ask for a written contract.
If you have a disability or injury that prevents you from accessing areas of your home that are damaged after a storm, ask a friend or family member to look at and photograph the damaged areas for you. If you plan to file a homeowners insurance claim, get in touch with your insurance agent or claims adjuster as soon as you can.
Proceed with caution if the contractor:
- Asks you to pay the entire balance at the start of the project. Most will propose a payment schedule and a deposit of 20 or 25 percent.
- Only accepts cash.
- Offers a price that’s too good to be true.
- Doesn’t supply you with proof of insurance.
- Offers to pay your insurance deductible (the amount you pay before insurance kicks in).
Get the project details in writing
After narrowing the field of contractors, ask for two or preferably three bids on the project. Once you’ve selected a contractor, ask for proper documentation and paperwork, including:
- A detailed quote that itemizes materials and labor.
- A list of references consisting of people who have had similar projects done.
- A contract that details the cost, work to be done, time schedules, guarantees, payment schedules and other expectations. If the contract wording is not completely clear to you, ask questions or have someone else review the contract. Refer back to the contract if any questions arise during the project or after the job is complete.
- A copy of the contractor’s license.
- A certificate of insurance for both general liability and workers’ compensation coverage.
- A written warranty for the work that is done.
- A receipt. Make sure to get a receipt that is marked “paid in full” when a job is completed and you make the final payment.
For more information, refer to the home repairs guidelines from the source article on the New York State Department of Financial Services website. If you have a concern about a contractor that you can't resolve, you could file a complaint with the New York Department of State at www.dos.ny.gov.
Contact your insurance company or a local Erie Insurance agent to get answers to specific questions about your homeowners insurance policies and claims. Erie Insurance has knowledgeable claims adjusters who are trained to assess and identify storm damage and prepare repair estimates. They can suggest the names of local licensed contractors to work with if you need a referral as part of a claim.