Hiring Contractors

When doing large home-construction projects, it's sometimes necessary to hire a professional contractor. Here's our guide.

| June/July 2001

Now that some of us have reached a "comfortable age" (a polite euphemism around here for being a year or two shy of "over the hill"), we feel comfortable with home maintenance and repair — to a point.

But for larger construction projects, such as remodeling a house, even the most experienced do-it-yourselfers often need to hire a professional builder.

I am currently in the process of building a year-round sunroom in my house. I decided to hire a building contractor for the structure and separate trade contractors for the foundation, heating and electrical work. Due to the long waiting time for the local approvals, my building contractor had to take another job and I was forced to scramble for a new one. Fortunately, the foundation subcontractor also did framing. I was hesitant to hand him the increased responsibility, but he came highly recommended by close friends, lived locally and his previous work was very good. So far, I have been very pleased with his work and also with our relationship. We had some very bad weather during the construction and my basement, at one point, turned into a swimming pool due to the changes in grade and the lack of gutters. I knew I'd made the right decision in hiring this contractor when he came out on the weekend to help clean up the basement mess. He and I have also spent many hours on the phone discussing various improvements. He has been very cooperative and flexible. While I don't yet consider him a close friend, he has certainly become a critical part of my life.

When it comes to hiring a contractor, you must do your homework just as you would before any major purchase. Even a small contracting job can cause headaches and financial losses if not researched properly. I cannot guarantee perfect results, but there are steps that you can take to minimize your risk. It is possible to avoid sleepless nights, half-finished work or household disruptions by gathering information that will help you choose a contractor you can trust.

1. Research Your Project

Read magazines and books, visit home improvement stores and talk to friends who have had similar work done on their house. Check out the various materials, systems and appliances you want to buy. Then seek out a contractor.

2. Plan Your Approach

There are two types of contractors: general contractors and trade contractors. A general contractor is a project coordinator who is responsible for hiring and supervising the work performed by trade contractors. The trade contractors are specialists who work on individual aspects of the job, such as electrical or plumbing. Often, a general contractor will perform some or all of the subcontracting work himself. While you can save money by being your own general contractor, many people either don't have the time or the capacity to take on that responsibility.

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