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Contractor clues: Top tips for hiring a good one

Want to avoid a renovation nightmare? TODAY real estate guru Barbara Corcoran offers advice to make it as painless as possible.

Whether you're painting your living room, adding a back deck or remodeling a bath, there always seems to be a snag. Any home renovation can be an emotional roller-coaster, even under the best of circumstances, and weeding out the good contractors from the bad can be a project in itself. TODAY real estate guru Barbara Corcoran offers these tips to help make your next renovation as painless as possible.              


How to find one

  • Talk to your neighbors next door.
  • Cruise the neighborhood.
  • Ask your real estate broker.

How to hire one

  • Hire someone local.
  • Get three estimates.
  • Check out his truck.
  • Call three past customers.
  • Visit a job.

Don’t move forward unless you’ve gotten three estimates on each piece of the work that you want to do. You can’t just fall in love with the lowest estimate. You have to make sure that the person is competent and can do good work. You may have to pay a little bit more to know that the job will be done.

It’s really common sense to ask your contractor a lot of questions. Even if you know the answers to the questions, you want to hear what he says, how he talks. If he’s evasive on anything, don’t hire the guy. If he answers a question like “Will you be on the job every day of the week?”  with a noncommittal “Oh, well, sort of, maybe,” then don’t hire the guy. You’ve got to build trust from the beginning because the trust card is what you’re going to live with —or really wish you had — right through the job.

In all my experience, this is the most reliable gauge out there: Go have a look at that contractor’s truck. If it’s a mess, the job he’s going to run is going be a total mess. You have to appreciate, the truck is that contractor’s office, and how he manages his truck is exactly what he’s going to do with your job. So have a look at his truck.

It’s important, and most people don’t bother to walk the contractor back down the steps and have a look at that vehicle.

The most important questions to ask

  • “What is your availability?”
  • “How long will it take to complete the job?”
  • “How many people do you have working for you?”
  • “Will you be personally on the job each day?”

What to include in the contract

  • Change orders.
  • Clean-up.
  • Number of workers each day.
  • Proof of insurance.
  • Permits, permit fees and inspections.
  • Exclude fixtures and appliances.
  • Hold last third of monies until job is completed.

Contractors usually charge 10 to 15 percent premium on retail, so make sure that’s excluded in the contract, so that you have the right to buy your own stuff. 

Also, you want to address the question of change orders. It’s human nature to go through a job and then to realize you want something a little different. If you don’t have a specified price for each change, you’re going to get ripped off in the end.

The best thing to do always is get any deal you ever do in life in writing, if it’s a business deal. Most people remember to get something in writing with the price of the work and the scope of the work. But these are the things that people constantly leave out and become something to haunt you right through the entire job:

  • You want to be sure to include a clean-up clause. If you think you don’t like the guy tearing your house apart, you’re really going to hate him when you’re cleaning up after him every day. So you have to have that right up front in the contract.
  • And also make sure he comes back for the final inspections. Make sure that is in the contract as well.