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Finding A Competent Professional

Right At Home Daily: Finding It: Contractors
By Barbara B. Buchholz for Right at Home Daily

How do you find a good contractor, architect and designer? Carefully. The professionals you hire will quickly become part of your extended family.

First, be certain that anyone you hire is skilled in the services they render, is easy to work with, and acts professionally. Your contractor and his or her crew should arrive on time, keep the construction site clean, properly supervise subs, and get the job done to your satisfaction in a timely manner.

Finding a Competent ProfessionalGet Recommendations
Ask friends and family for recommendations about tradespeople, and about professionals they've worked with -- and want to work with again. Call area architecture and design schools, and jot down names you cull from newspapers and magazines.

Play Sleuth
Once you have several possibilities, it's time to play sleuth.

Schedule an appointment with each candidate, preferably three per category. Ask each how long he's been in business, what types of projects he typically takes on, how busy he is now, how much he thinks your project will cost, and how long he expects it will take.

Make sure you check out a recently completed job and ask former clients for input. Did the project came in on budget and on time? If not, why?

The Better Business Bureau
Check out the Better Business Bureau or a comparable source. Ask about insurance coverage, licensing and bonding. Follow your gut. If someone doesn't return your phone calls promptly, he's unlikely to do so on the job.

Iron Out Specifics
Make sure you iron out specifics in advance and put them in writing. If you don't have a written contract, you could be in big trouble.

Ask for Plans and Samples
Ask for plans, materials and samples to be used. Find out how differences will be resolved. Get to know your contractor's daily routine, including what time everyone will arrive each day. Figure out who will have a key to your jobsite.

Determine how often you'll be informed about the status of work and problems. Big problems should be conveyed immediately so an alternate plan can be devised.

Establishing A Payment Schedule
Create a schedule of payments that is tied to completion points in the job. Don't pay more than 10 to 15 percent of the fee upfront, and put your payment schedule in writing. And, withhold at least 10 percent of the total fee until the project is done to your satisfaction.

1. Thoroughly check credentials and references. Don't hire anyone who isn't licensed, bonded and insured.

2. Get bids for the job from at least 3 different contracting companies.

3. Put everything in writing, including total cost, time frame, and who does what on the job, including hauling away debris. Have an attorney help you negotiate with the contractor, and decide whether you should have a title or escrow company handle payments to the contractor.

4. Discuss whether the crew can smoke (on your property, off your property, in your home), use your bathrooms, your refrigerator and your telephone. Bills mount up, so think this through carefully before you say yes.

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