Hiring home professionals can be one of the most stressful and confusing things you do as a home owner. (Read: Why Hiring Contractors is So Difficult) You want the best person for the job, but affordability is also a factor. As with nearly everything else in life, good communication can make all the difference.
What’s important to you might not be the same as for everyone else. That's why it's helpful to create a checklist prior to talking to prospective contractors. Here you can list your expectations and prepare questions to vet contractors and find those who's process and values match your expectations.
When you're prepared for these conversations, you should feel comfortable talking with the contractor. If you're not comfortable, if you don't feel they're listening to your questions and answering them, then they're not the right contractor for you. And if you want help putting your checklist together, check out our eBook, Finding and Hiring the Right Contractor.
Be Sure Contractor’s Costs are Clearly Documented
When you hire home professionals, one part of your checklist should cover all the costs that need to be documented in the contract, including allowances and contingencies. There are many factors that can alter the final project cost, and those will vary based on what kind of job it is. There are ways to estimate unknown costs, so you're making a decision on total project costs, not just the contractor's bill.
- Allowances – provide an estimate of costs for home features you will pick out, like appliances.
- Contingency – is used to estimate hidden costs like additional support for the weight of bathroom tile or missing insulation.
For your peace of mind, and that of the contractor, be sure to ask the hard questions while negotiating your contract. Have products and materials specified to avoid confusion. Ask that all labor be broken out in the contract. This helps when you want to change requirements and need to compare costs. You should also ask what are average costs for this job, and what factors can keep costs down? And when the job will be completed?
For example, with our 4-story addition it was assumed that the new living space would be heated with forced hot air like the rest of the house. Once the addition was framed out, it was clear we'd lose ceiling height to accommodate ductwork. The contractor was able to switch to a combination of radiant heat and baseboard hot water.
Agree on a Schedule with Your Home Professionals
If there’s anything more frustrating than a job going over budget, it’s probably a job taking much more time than was initially agreed upon. A job that was supposed to be finished in a week, but ends up taking a month or more, not only leaves you with an unfinished home, but can add up to a mountain of extra labor costs.
Talk frankly about scheduling with the home professionals you hire. Learn what processes they use to monitor and communicate when a project goes into “overtime.” (Read: Working With Your Building Contractor) It happens, and sometimes it can’t be avoided. But you’ll need straightforward answers to help maintain your peace of mind.
Cost and scheduling are perhaps the two most critical elements of any project, but there are many others. Here is a checklist you can use to help clarify what you expect, what the home professional should deliver, and what to do when expectations are sideswiped by unplanned surprises.
Contractor Identity and Background
- Business name
- Contractor name
- Contractor permanent contact information (telephone, and mailing address)
- Contractor professional license(s)
- Better Business Bureau rating
- Identity of contractor employees on site
- Contractor references and it's important to check these.
Contractor Job Scope and Responsibilities
- Projected cost of the project
- Potential factors that could increase cost
- Home owner options for reducing cost
- Projected completion date of project
- Potential factors that could alter that date
- Options the homeowner has for correcting issues after the work is complete
Job Completion Checklist
- Was the work completed on time?
- Is the work satisfactory?
- Did the contractor stay on budget?
- Is there any damage to the home?
- Is any element of the work left unfinished?
- If there are unfinished elements, what is the projected completion date?
Working with a contractor can be exciting, rewarding, and sometimes intimidating. You're paying for the skills and expertise of home professionals, but it's your home — you are officially in charge.
Consider these points, and think of more you'd like to add or modify. Every situation is different, and only you can determine what's most important for you and your home. With this handy checklist, the surprises will be fewer. That means peace of mind for both you, and for the home professionals you hire to work in and around your home.
Have you completed any projects recently, or maybe you're planning one? We'd love to have you share your homeowner stories with others, here at Home Tips for Women. And if you're still nervous about hiring contractors, our eBook, Finding and Hiring the Right Contractor has worksheets to make it more comfortable for you.