Home remodeling is expected to increase this year, as homeowners remain in their homes longer and equity increases along with rising property values.
A report released by Harvard University in January found that people who owned property expected to increase their spending on repairs and improvements by 7.5 percent in 2018, the highest annual increase since 2007.
Most contractors are honest professionals, however state regulators get complaints about those who disappear before the work is done, perform construction that isn’t up to code and use misleading advertising, among other infractions.
Here’s a list of tips from home improvement professionals and regulatory agencies for hiring a general contractor who can implement your vision the right way:
- Get references. Start by asking people you trust if they have worked with remodeling companies they liked, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission says. Ask to see those projects, and find out how the experience went.
- Search reputable websites. Look at sites like LongandFoster.com’s Home Service Connections to find dependable businesses.
- Confirm the license. Contact your state agency or department that licenses contractors. Usually this can be done online, said Ron Jacques, general manager at TR Young Services, based in Fairfax, Virginia. To name a few of these bodies: Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation; New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs; North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors; Pennsylvania Attorney General; and Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation. In Washington, D.C., it’s the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 202-442-4400.
- Ask to see the insurance certificates. Make sure the contractor’s coverage would pay to replace your home, in case of a catastrophic accident, said Mark Elias, vice president of Mina Enterprises, in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
- Be lead safe. If your home was built before 1978, the contractor must be lead-safe certified by the EPA and/or state environmental regulatory body, Elias added. Failure to comply can lead to environmental damage and expose your family to lead.
- Get more than one estimate. Scrutinize the details of each bid. The least expensive might not be the best deal, Jacques said. Additionally, be very specific about what you want and expect.
A licensed and insured contractor usually has the business mechanisms set up to take responsibility for things like worker injuries, Jacques said. “As a homeowner, if you hire someone who is ‘just a guy,’ and they get hurt, that will fall on you,” he said.
Many states maintain funds – usually a pool of contractor licensing fees – to compensate consumers who have the misfortune of hiring a licensed contractor who doesn’t fulfill the contract or botches a job. Rules vary by state, but using an unlicensed contractor closes off that avenue for recourse.
Jacques also recommends homeowners read this guide put together by the Virginia DPOR to help consumers navigate the home improvement process. The document goes over choosing a contractor, getting bids, what the contract should look like, creating a schedule, making payments, and more.