hard hat guyFrom U.S. News & World Report……

Picking a reliable contractor can be as tough as walking on nails. “Licensed” might just mean he paid a fee for his license. And the Better Business Bureau can tell you only if there are complaints about a contractor. Follow these steps to improve your odds of finding someone who will get the job done on time, on budget.

  1. Ask the pros for picks. A local lumberyard or plumbing supply company will tell you who pays his bills on time and has a solid reputation.
  2. Handpick references. Ask to speak to current clients, who will tell all about delays and cost overruns. And ask for two recent clients who have had similar work done.
  3. Insist on insurance. Your contractor needs at least $1 million in general liability insurance for on-the-job injuries, as well as workers’ comp and vehicle insurance. Ask to see up-to-date certificates.
  4. Get detailed estimates. Give each contractor a list of exactly what needs to be done and the materials you want. Read estimates closely: The cheapest bid may have overlooked work that others factored in.
  5. Control $$. Tell potential contractors you won’t pay more than 10 percent upfront and you’ll withhold 15 percent for 30 days after the job is done to make sure all is well. A reputable person won’t balk.
  6. Put it in writing. Tell the contractor the contract must include a timetable that stipulates the job will be “continuously processed” (no stopping to work on another project), an agreement to provide lien releases at job’s end showing subcontractors and suppliers have been paid, and a one-year warranty. A contractor who protests isn’t worth his grout. -Michelle Andrews

This story appears in the March 22, 2004 print edition of U.S. News & World Report. Visit www.usnews.com