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Choosing A Professional Contractor

Choosing a professional contractor will take more than just looking at an estimate and comparing prices. You should prepare to sit down for approximately an hour with each contractor. You might find yourself speaking with a sales person, manager, or even the owner him or herself. This will ensure you have enough time to have your questions asked, answered and have all your options explained to you thoroughly. You may find yourself surprised with how many options you have.

A benchmark of a good contractor is they take pride in their work, and, if they take pride.so should the sales person. They should show pride and enthusiasm in discussing previous jobs, and they should be knowledgeable about other jobs. This will tell you the amount of involvement they had in the actual work.

The seven questions to ask your contractor.

1) What is the full name and address of the company?
Believe it or not, getting the company's complete address is an important factor in determining their length of time in business. A contractor with out an established place of business has no ties to the area and can easily pick up and leave. Thus leaving you with no recourse should you need to have them service the job they completed for you or take them to court.

2) Does the company carry insurance?
In order to protect you in the event of a job site related accident, the contractor should carry comprehensive liability and workers' compensation insurance. You can verify this by asking to see the contractors' certificate of insurance (general liability and workers' compensation). Make sure the certificates are current and up-to-date. Contractors may also carry other types of insurance (e.g. auto, life, health, etc.) but don't be confused. Ask to see their General liability and Workers' compensation coverage.

Remember, the homeowner is ultimately liable for injuries which occur on their property, unless the employee is covered by workers' compensation insurance. Serious accidents can carry extraordinarily expensive hospital bills, FOR WHICH YOU SHOULD NOT BE responsible.

Contractors who do not carry insurance will be less expensive to hire, as they don't have the expensive insurance premiums to pay. Premiums for workers' compensation will increase wage costs as much as 100% depending on the state. There are some reasons why a contractor may not carry full insurance (e.g. not a full time contractor, operates a partnership or is self-employed with no employees, new in the business, can't afford insurance premiums, doesn't stand behind their work, etc.), but it's up to you if it's worth the risk. Remember. . . It is against the law for a contractor to operate without full insurance, and for a homeowner to hire a contractor without full insurance.

3) Is the company a licensed or credentialed contractor?
A contractor is required by law to be licensed by your state and city. A written exam needs to be passed in order for the license to be issued. Don't be fooled if you see a business license instead of their contractors' license. A Business license is for tax purposes only and is not relevant to the contractor's competence. Several manufactures offer certifications/credentials as a knowledgeable contractor in that field. You can view these certifications/credentials as another indicator of their degree of knowledge, professionalism, and dedication to their trade.

4) How long has the company been in business?
Longer is usually better. If the contractor has been in business for less than 5 years, this may be a sign of an unstable business, or one that is low on the learning curve. On the other hand, you have to start somewhere. The failure rate of new businesses in the first 5 years is 96% according to the small business administration. It is only reasonable to be even more careful when reviewing their references.

5) Will the company provide referrals or references from previous jobs?
Asking to see completed job photos will give you an idea of the quality of work they provide. A list of references and phone numbers should be reviewed to gauge the experience you may have with them.

6) What is the company's workmanships warranty?
Typical contractors' workmanship warranties are for 1 year. The warranty offered is an indication of the contractor's intent and ability to stand behind their work. Another indication is when speaking with their previous customers, ask 1) Did they perform their work on a timely basis? 2) Were they responsive when they were asked for information and changes? 3) Did they care about the customers' interests? And finally, 4) Would they call the company trustworthy?

7) What is the company's track record for solving customer complaints?
Find out how the contractor handles a problem when it arises by checking them out on the better business bureau's website. Some localities, such as Fairfax County, will also have a resource on their site for consumers' to check up on a company's track record with their customer disputes. Remember, a contractor that has been in business for any length of time will have been involved in a dispute at some point. These sites will show if they have been involved in a dispute and if it was resolved or if they made every reasonable effort to resolve it.