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Need help choosing a contractor? Pay attention to these little-known tips on how to get the right person for your project. 

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winter dormer window reflection landscape

When winter winds blow, it’s the perfect time to call out a contractor to handle those things you’ve been putting off. The winter period is usually slow for contractors, as most people want to get their projects done during the summertime. Besides that, winter might be the right time for you to spend the time necessary to line up the contractors; after all, there is no warm, sunny day beckoning you to come out to the lake!

When you choose to hire a contractor, there are certain things you should do before you take the plunge. Many homeowners make the mistake of believing that hiring a contractor takes care of all their worries, but that’s not true: You and your contractor will become a team, working together to make the project you envisioned become a reality. Here are a few things you can do to prepare for that partnership.

Get together all the information

When a contractor shows up at your house to give you an estimate, all he or she has is the basic information about what you want done. For instance, you need a window replaced? The contractor has no idea whether that window is small or large, very unique or standard, or what kind of replacement you want. You might want a bow or bay window, which requires much more construction work. Or you might want stained glass, which requires a special order.

Be prepared to hand your contractor some information about exactly what you want. When it comes to that window, have dimensions ready to give an idea of what to expect. Have an idea of the type of frame you want. When you are doing this research, you can also look at prices of certain items you expect will be used in the project, and that can help you make sure that prices don’t get inflated during the estimate phase.

Allow the contractor full access to any area that pertains to the project. An example would be bathroom work — your contractor might need to see what is on the other side of the bathroom walls, and that could mean letting him or her into a bedroom, closet or other area. Give them plenty of time to look over the area, take measurements, and figure out what they might need to do.

Give the estimates an honest look

When you have estimates in hand — at least three of them for the best comparisons — look at them with an open mind. If someone is charging a higher price than the others, ask yourself why, and look carefully at the estimate to figure out the discrepancy. If you aren’t sure, call them and ask. That particular contractor might have noticed something that the others didn’t, or has plans for the project that suit your vision in a much better way.

At the same time, watch out for the contractors who give you the lowest estimate. They might have missed something, or might intend that you handle some part of the project yourself, such as obtaining permits for the work. They might also intend to use lower-quality materials.

On the other hand, the lowest bid might come from someone who truly needs the work, or someone who doesn’t have enough experience to know what the project is really going to cost. Again, if you are curious about why a bid is so low when compared to others, call and ask why they gave you that price.

Make sure the contract protects everyone

Once you have chosen the right contractor, make sure that the working relationship doesn’t go south by signing a clear contract. Some homeowners might choose to employ an attorney for this, especially if the project requires a significant outlay of money.

Make sure that the contract focuses on all the pertinent points, such as the scope of the project, what to do if the project goes over schedule or over budget, how payments will be handled, what kind of procedure will be used to iron out any surprises along the way, and anything else that makes you or the contractor comfortable.

Be the best homeowner you can be

Remember that you and your contractor are a team, but that doesn’t mean that you should hover or be right in the middle of the job. Be honest with yourself about what kind of homeowner you are. Do you want to know every detail? Or do you want to allow your contractor to do the work without your supervision? Convey those requests to the contractor and make sure that they are okay with the way you work.

And once the project begins, even if you are paying attention and supervising, remember to stay out of the way. Safety comes first, for both you and the contractor you hire. Sanity comes second — and to keep your sanity, and allow your contractor to keep theirs, stay as friendly and professional as possible. Considering that you will be stuck in close quarters during winter upgrades, a good attitude is essential!

 

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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.