The Care & Feeding of Your Home: Finding and Selecting a Contractor

By Handyman Bob Stronghandymanbob_logo-8x6

The home and garden shows have started for another year which means many of us will decide to tackle some sort of renovation project. Unless you plan to do the work yourself, you’ll be looking for a contractor. By following a few simple steps, you should end up with a good one.

Start by developing a list of people to interview. Talk with friends, relatives, neighbors, your book club – anyone who has recently had work done in their home. Be sure to find out what their experience was, how big the project was, and would they use that contractor again.

Make sure the contractor is licensed with the CCB, the Construction Contractors Board in Salem. In Oregon, a license is required for anyone who does any construction, alteration, home improvement, remodeling or repair work. Call the CCB or check on-line to be sure the license is currently active. If it is, you are assured that the contractor has the required surety bond, and at least the required general liability insurance. Do not even consider hiring an unlicensed contractor.

Be sure to ask for references. Check with previous customers to see if they were satisfied with the work, if he finished the work in the time allotted, and if there were any billing surprises. You may also want to find out if the contractor returned phone calls promptly – communication will be very important. Look at previous work. Does it meet your expectations?

You may want to ask what trade associations the contractor belongs to. Home building and remodeling is professional work. Membership in a professional organization is one indication that a contractor recognizes the responsibility of being a professional.

Step five is to get two or three specific, written bids for large jobs. Make sure you and the contractor agree on the scope of work to be performed. It’s simply not enough to say, “Remodel kitchen – $32,000 dollars.” When you’re spending that kind of money, you better make sure the two of you agree that what you expect is what he plans to provide.

The final step is to evaluate all bids alongside one another. Don’t automatically accept the lowest bid. A really low bid usually means the contractor forgot to include something. A large number of CCB complaints result from homeowners taking the lowest bid and then being unhappy with poor quality work.

Be careful about hiring a contractor on an hourly “time and materials” or “cost plus” basis. In the first scenario, the contractor has no incentive to finish quickly. In the second one, you won’t know what to expect the job to cost until the end of the project. A fixed price bid may give you the best protection. That said, understand that unforeseen things do arise in every job and you will be expected to sign change orders, which means the cost will probably increase.

Handyman Bob offers home improvement advice on his radio show, Around The House, every Saturday from noon to 2:00 on FM News 101 KXL. And, during the week, he is a relationship marketing consultant. For more information, visit his website: