Q: What do I need to know about hiring a contractor to work on my house?
A: We’ve all heard unhappy tales about disreputable contractors taking advantage of homeowners — particularly after a severe and damaging weather event. But there are ways to protect yourself and the investment you have made in your home. Online recommendation sites are unverifiable but the simple steps outlined below will help you make sure you are working with a qualified professional you can trust.
First and foremost you want to make sure any contractor you consider is registered with the Department of Labor & Industries. Make sure a contractor you are considering carries general liability insurance.
This type of insurance protects your property in case of damage caused inadvertently by the contractor. Next you want to make sure that the contractor carries compensation insurance. This insurance protects you from liability if a worker is injured while on your property.
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If the contractor doesn’t carry this kind of insurance, you may be liable for any injuries suffered by the contractor, or any of their employees, while working on your property. Never hire a contractor who will not guarantee their work for at least one year from the date of completion. Some contractors guarantee their work for two to three years, but you should insist on a minimum of one year.
It is also very important to make sure that any contractor you hire will obtain all the required building permits. When building permits are obtained, you know the work will be done to code. And keep in mind that many homeowners’ insurance policies require a building permit on any major remodeling to keep your home properly covered.
Ask for written references. A good contractor will be happy to provide you with several. Make sure they are customers from within the past year and contact them. Ask about their experiences with the contractor and how the contractor worked to resolve any issues they had.
This will tell you not only about the quality of the company’s work, but how they were to work with.
As part of your interview process, ask the contractor how much of the company’s business is repeat or referral. When a significant source of a contractor’s business is from repeat business, it indicates the company’s clients are pleased with the work that has been done.
Another often-overlooked safeguard is called a written lien waiver. This is a legal document that says you, the homeowner, have paid the contractor in full for services rendered, and that the contractor waives his or her right to place a lien on your property.
Make sure your contract includes a commitment to provide you with this waiver. A story made the news a year or so ago about a homeowner who had a lien placed on their property because there was a dispute between the contractor and a subcontractor who claimed he had not been paid.
Had the homeowner had a written lien waiver then, it would have been legally clear that the contractor had been paid in full and it was a dispute purely between the contractor and the subcontractor. Because the homeowner didn’t have the lien waiver, they found themselves with a lien on their property.
Finally, ask your prospective contractor how many projects like yours they have completed in the last year. Your ideal contractor has had experience with similar work and not just general contracting experience.