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To many homeowners, this is the time of year for thinking about home improvement projects. But an important part of the process, maybe the most important part, is the selection of a contractor.

There are terrible stories out there about contractors who did poor work, overcharged, or just did not perform as promised. There are many great contractors out there as well. How can you be sure you make the right choice? Follow these tips to keep your project on track by selecting the right home improvement contractor:

Ask questions

Word-of-mouth is a valuable way to find out about a good contractor. Check with someone you know who has had work done and was happy with the work. It's a good idea to get quotes from at least three contractors for comparison. Be sure each company was given identical specifications about what you want done.

Ask each contractor for references, then go to those individuals and ask if the job was done well. There is no point in asking for references if you do not follow through and check them out. Disreputable contractors may give you names of fictional "satisfied customers" in hopes you won't bother to call them.

Ask how long they have been in business and get a business address - then check it out, either in a phone book or by driving by the location.

Inquire about whether they are licensed, what permits are required for the specific job, and what type of insurance they have. Insurance should include personal liability, worker's compensation and property damage coverage. Get documentation proving they have the insurance. Reputable contractors will gladly provide those documents.

Check out the contractor with the Better Business Bureau.

After you've chosen

Once you have selected a contractor, there are more considerations to keep in mind before your project has begun, including:
Be sure the contract specifies a starting and completion date, the total cost (with a breakdown of material and labor charges), the payment schedule, guarantees, warrantees and debris-removal method.

Never sign a partial or blank contract.

Never pay more than a third of the agreed-on price up front. Many contractors will not require any payment until they have started the work. When payments are made, use a check or credit card, not cash, and get written receipts.

For more information contact Manzola Carpentry.

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