Let’s say you’re about to take on a house project, whether it’s a major kitchen renovation or a simple painting job, and you decide to hire a contractor. So, you flip through the phone book and call the first number you see listed under “Kitchen Remodeling” or “Painters.” Not so fast.
Many homeowners don’t realize that they are taking a huge risk when they hire just any contractor off the street. If you don’t do your homework, you could be exposing yourself to massive amounts of liability. What if a painter falls off his ladder and badly injures his back while painting your living room? What if a kitchen contractor hits a pipe and floods your home? Who will cover the lofty expenses associated with these types of accidents?
The thought of such a home improvement catastrophe is enough to send chills down any homeowner’s spine. This is why it’s so important to hire only licensed, insured, highly experienced contractors to work on your house project-no matter how big or small the job may be.
Here are a few rules of thumb for hiring a reliable contractor and limiting your liability:
Ask for recommendations
One of the best ways to find a dependable contractor is simply to ask your friends, family members, co-workers and neighbors. Ask everyone you know and trust if they can suggest a reputable contractor who did exceptional work for them. More than likely, if a friend was happy with a contractor, you will be too.
Steer clear of contractors who go door-to-door or make cold calls in search of work. The best, most reliable contractors don’t have to resort to such solicitations.
Don’t fall for “limited time” offers
If a contractor quotes you a “limited time” project price that will increase if you don’t hire him immediately, run like the wind. This can be a sign that the contractor is dishonest or illegitimate.
Get it in writing
Don’t settle for verbal agreements. Request a written estimate that includes a detailed breakdown of the project costs, including materials and labor fees.
Verify, verify, verify
Before you hire any contractor, make sure that they are licensed, bonded and insured-and don’t just take their word for it. Verify all of this by asking for certificates of insurance for workers’ compensation as well as info on their general liability policies. If the contractor working on your home plans to use subcontractors, be sure to ask for the certificates for those subcontractors as well.
Read the fine print
Before the contractor begins work on your house project, request a copy of the proposed contract. Read all of the fine print and make sure all the terms are fair and reasonable. The contract should clearly establish an independent contractor relationship. It should also include a “hold harmless clause” in your favor, especially if the contractor is doing major work that involves heavy equipment (such as installing a swimming pool or adding a room to your house.) A hold harmless clause ensures that the contractor will cover any expenses associated with members of the public who are injured or whose property is damaged during the project.
Check with the Better Business Bureau
If you’re still not sure, contact the Better Business Bureau for more information. They can tell you if any consumers have filed complaints against the contractor. Visit the bureau’s website at www.bbb.org.