Don't call a contractor until you know approximately what components, appliances or fixtures that you want in your project. Collect magazine clippings and photos from the Internet to show exactly what you have chosen.
When you meet the contractor for the first time he will appreciate your insight and knowledge and maybe even give you a few good tips about the products you have chosen.
He will automatically know that, due to your extensive studies, you have an insight into real costs.
Start by calling at least 10 contractors. Explain what kind of project you want to build. You will be lucky to find three out of the 10 who will be interested enough in you and your project to arrange an appointment to visit your home.
Of the three only one or two will actually show up. Think we're crazy? We've been consumer advocates for 30 years. Expect this kind of mistreatment and you won't be heartbroken as the process continues.
At some point during the initial conversation ask the following very important question: "Do you have experience building (my project type) and how many similar projects have you built?"
Don't invite someone into your home who does not have extensive experience constructing your specific type of project.
Next, ask another important question: "Can we visit several jobs that you have completed that are like mine?" In other words, do you do what I need done and have you done it many times before and are your customers "happy customers?"
Don't take the contractor's word for it. Get the grand tour and talk to his customers.
During the initial conversation the contractor may ask you for a budget. If you are planning a kitchen remodel and state that your budget is $4,000 the contractor may hang up on you.
A decent 30-inch gas range costs $4,000. If you intend on hiring a contractor you should investigate various project costs so that you can respond to the contractor's question with some degree of insight and knowledge.
At this point nothing is in stone. Each wants to know if the other is well versed in what will be happening.
Oh, if you consider yourself a shrewd negotiator and ask two contractors to visit your home at the same time you will discover that both will leave and not come back.
It's not shrewd -- it's rude and inconsiderate. If you are a shrewd negotiator wait until there is something to negotiate.
Before the contractor leaves ask him to complete a credit application. Once he signs a credit application you should then spend a few bucks for a credit check.
Go to your favorite bank and ask them for a copy of their standard credit application form. If you have a computer, simply Google "credit application form." Click on "images" and you will be able to choose from more than 200 credit application forms.
If the contractor will not complete the form before he leaves, he has something to hide. Many people are known to pay contractors huge sums of money while knowing nothing about them.
For tips from James and Morris Carey, go to www.onthehouse.com or call the listener hot line, 800-737-2474, ext. 59. The Careys are also on KRKO (1380-AM) from 6 to 10 a.m. every Saturday.
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