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The do-it-yourself spirit is alive and well in homeowners across the nation. If the number of “weekend warriors” at your favorite home improvement store is any indication, more and more individuals are taking advantage of user-friendly tools and building products to turn their dreams into reality with their own hands.

But as satisfying as it can be to install that new door or engage in your own cabinet refacing, there are some projects that you might want to consider handing off to the professionals. If putting that vinyl siding on the second story is daunting or if you don’t know where to begin to install those new windows, it’s time for a contractor to step in.

Taking the best steps in choosing a contractor

With so many contractors vying for your attention, finding the right one can seem like an easy task. But don’t be fooled by those who claim to have what it takes but actually lack the skills, knowledge and experience needed to do justice to your home improvement project. These five tips can help make sure you get the good help you deserve:

  1. Listen to word of mouth. The best advertisement any contractor can have is a happy customer. Ask your friends, coworkers and neighbors who they might recommend. If the same name comes up often, you have found a good lead.
  2. Ask for the estimate. Get an estimate from at least two contractors–three is even better. Make certain each contractor is bidding on the same parameters. Compare the estimates, keeping in mind that the dollar amount is only one part of the picture.
  3. Check them out! Before you move to the contract stage, be certain of who you are dealing with. Make sure the contractor has all the appropriate licenses, insurance and certifications required in your state or town. Ask for a list of references and call each one of them. Finally, check out the Better Business Bureau and see what they have to say about the contractor.
  4. Don’t be afraid to show the contract to an attorney. The contract might seem short and straightforward, but don’t take any chances with your money. Ask your attorney to take a look at the wording and content of the contract. This can spot potential problems before they have a chance to break your budget or cause serious headaches.
  5. Trust your gut instinct. All the good advice in the world can’t trump that nagging feeling that something is not quite right. Trust your instincts. If you are uncertain about the contractor for any reason, choose someone else.

One important aspect of great do-it-yourself work is knowing when you are in over your head! Whether that window replacement is just too much to handle or that flooring needs more work than you have experience, a good contractor can get the job done correctly and in a reasonable time.

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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.