You arrive home from work to find a door hanger advertising a great deal for new thermo-pane windows. About the time you get the door unlocked, the phone rings with a great offer for new siding. About the time you hang up, a knock on your door bring you an offer to replace your roof, again for a great price. You'll also find ads in your local paper, in the coupon envelope that arrives each month and on late night television. All high pressures sales tactics to get you to agree before your have time to think about it. You'll be the demo home for the neighborhood or get a discount for referring other customers.

You buy the new windows and the new roof and six months later, they're leaking. The siding you bought is falling off and your contractor is nowhere to be found. He's not even listed in the phone book!

Before hiring a plumber, electrician, HVAC repairman, painter, carpenter, etc. you need to do a few things to protect yourself.
Before signing a contract or just handing over your dollars, there are a few things you need to see.

  • Contractor's are required to be licensed.
  • They are required to be bonded.
  • They are required to carry contractor's liability insurance.

If you are in need of their services, do no less than confirm all of the above are in force by making a few calls or checking out the licensing status with your state licensing division. Don't forget to call the Better Business Bureau and your state's Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division to confirm there are not complaints recorded. Check the date on the licensing, bonding and insurance policy to confirm they were not obtained recently. Confirm the contractor is local, not some fly by night outfit that will be gone tomorrow.

Step 2. Get references, ask to see a job they have done previously (this is especially easy if the work is to the exterior), both recently and at least six months earlier. (Sometimes poor workmanship does not show up right away.) Or, another job that's in progress.

Step 3. Get on the Internet and find out how this particular type of repair should properly be done. Then ask the contractor how he intends to do the work. Also get an idea of the material that will be required and how much it should cost. Have the estimate/bid broken down by labor costs and material costs. Get a second estimate from another contractor.

Step 4. If you're satisfied with all of the above, get a written and signed bid for the work to be performed. Establish that the price is FIRM. READ any fine print. Agree upon a date of completion and any penalties if the work is not completed on time. Time and again contractors show up on a small job to get it started and then disappear for 3-4 weeks to complete a larger job. If you're willing to suffer through the mess, then a completion date is not necessary. Down payments may or may not be required. If they are, get a receipt with a signature and a date.