After being quarantined and encouraged to stay home for weeks, it’s no wonder so many homeowners are looking for contractors to help with home improvements. Many families have spent more time within their property lines the past three or four months than they usually do all year, and now they want to make changes. Hiring a contractor can be a great idea for jobs that require knowledge and expertise in a certain field of construction, and it’s important to know how to choose a contractor that fits the scope of work needing completed.

Types of contractors

There are many types of contractors, and knowing which kind you need is an important first step to getting the job done correctly the first time. A general contractor manages all aspects of a project, such as hiring and supervising subcontractors (ex: electrical, plumbing), obtaining permits and scheduling necessary inspections. A specialty contractor is one that focuses on specific jobs, such as drywall, roofing, masonry or flooring. For major renovations that involve adding rooms or structural changes, an architect or building contractor could be a good fit.

Reviews

Once the type of contractor is determined, start asking trusted friends and colleagues if they’ve had work done or have any suggestions. Word of mouth is an excellent way to learn more about a contractor’s reputation. Online ratings such as Google reviews and Facebook reviews are also good ways to get more information about a business. Set up appointments with select contractors to go over the job and get estimates that include all the work. Remember that the lowest and highest bids may not always guarantee the most reliable craftsmanship. Research any potential contractors before making a final decision.

Licensing

Contractors in Indiana are not licensed by the state, but rather at the county and city level, so a contractor may need separate licenses to work in Johnson, Marion and Hancock counties. Check the local county and city websites to find out if licenses are needed in the area and if the contractors bidding on the job are licensed to work in the area.

Permitting

Many local governments require permits for any contracting work that takes place on the exterior of a home, even for jobs like fences and decks. Ask potential contractors what permits would be required for the job and if they will be getting those before work begins.

Insurance

Anything can go wrong on a construction site, even if it’s a small project, which is why it is so important to make sure the chosen contractor has the following insurance: personal liability, workers compensation and property damage coverage. Ask for a proof of insurance certificate and make sure it is not expired. If someone gets hurt on the job the homeowner does not want to be held liable. If using a general contractor that plans to hire subcontractors, it’s important to obtain proof of insurance from all the subcontractors too.

Payment

Leave a paper trail in case there is any type of dispute about payment; paying in cash is not advisable. Confirm what forms of payment the contractor accepts before agreeing on a contract. For large projects, it’s common to pay as different phases are completed, but those phases should be clear to all parties involved and an inspection or checklist of finished work should be done first. Before making a final payment, inspect the work and see that it is done properly and there is no waiting for a final piece to be installed or painted.

Contracts

Reputable contractors will make a contract between all parties. As the homeowner, make sure the contract has all contact information and license numbers, an estimated start and finish date, list of permits, list of subcontractors if necessary, payment schedule, and what will happen to the timeline and estimate if a change order is needed. For projects that require painting, the contract should identify which color(s) is being used, and if fixtures are being installed the model number and brand needs included. Add a broom clause to insure the contractor is responsible for the clean-up of materials, spills and stains. Finally, if any changes are discussed in person, over email or on the phone, there should be an update to the contract.

There are so many different types of contractors and their reputations can vary significantly. If a company does not have a listed phone number, is not willing to give references or cannot be found online as being licensed, then it may be a scam or a contractor with a bad reputation. Renovations to a home are a big deal, even for small projects, and the work should be done correctly the first time.