What to Look for in a Contractor?

Know what to look for when seeking to hire a contractor.

By Dermound Becker
Special to

When it comes to hiring a contractor to do work in your home, you need to take your time in choosing just the right one for you. A contractor is going to have people spending time in your home, so they need to be trustworthy and professional. Here are some helpful tips for choosing the right contractor for you.

Get as many bids/quotes as you can. Not only are you looking for a good price, but the more quotes you get, the better idea you have as to what the going rate in your area is for the work you want done. Remember, though, that the cheapest quote may not prove to be the best contractor for the job. Ask if the quote is a hard quote (the actual price that you will be charged) or just an estimate.

Ask for references and then, actually call the people. Find out if the job was completed entirely to the customer’s satisfaction. Was the work completed on time? Was the work site kept clean and safe? How close was the final bill to the estimate that was provided? And would they consider hiring this company again.

Is the contractor fully insured, licensed and bonded? Are ALL of his employees insured as well? The employees should be covered by workman’s comp and liability insurance. Also ask if the contractor is a member of any trade associations.

Check online for litigation history for the company. If they have been sued a number of times, this would be a definite red flag. You should also call the Better Business Bureau. They can provide you with a lot of useful information as to the company and its business history in the area.

Find out how long the contractor has been in business. As a general rule of thumb, a contractor that has been in business for at least five years is probably reliable. It is difficult to stay in business that long if they are doing shoddy work.

Ask if the price covers everything, such as permits, materials or blueprints . You should know the actual cost before you start working with a contractor.

Make sure you choose a contractor that you are comfortable communicating with. Does he or she really listen to you? Are they taking what you want done seriously? After all, this is your job, your home and you should have the final say in decisions. The contractor should have ideas to present to you, but you make the final decision.

Is the contractor going to be easy for you to reach if you need to? They should respond to your messages the same day.

You should realize that problems can arise. Weather, material problems, any number of reasonable problems can pop up and slow the course of your home improvement project. The contractor should communicate fully with you about these. But make sure that it clearly states in the contract before you sign it what will happen if there is a dispute. Mediation is a lot less costly than having to go to court.

Choose wisely and your home improvement project should go through without a hitch.

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The Celebrity Beat:'s Celebrity Real Estate Report

Paul Allen's New Malibu Home -- Sold for $25million (Photo Credit: Westside Estate Agency)

Paul Allen's New Malibu Home -- Sold for $25 million (Photo Credit: Westside Estate Agency)

By Serena Norr

Whoa, baby it is sure hot over here in NYC (recent temps have hit the 101 mark), but even the scorching weather hasn’t slowed down the celebrity real estate market. One example: Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft) who recently purchased a $25 million Malibu, California. Not only is this contemporary mansion covered in glass and white stucco, but the home is located along the über luxurious Carbon beach aka “Billionaire’s Beach” — where music mogul David Geffen, Courtney Cox-Arquette and Jennifer Aniston also have homes.

If buying is out of your range, you can always rent like Tracy Morgan recently did. Or you can stay in Malibu — on a temporary basis — in Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne’s home. Then again, the $40,000 a month rental fee is a little out of our range. Stay cool and we’ll see you next week.

•    Tracy Morgan On the Move…To Midtown
“Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” star, Tracy Morgan has recently relocated to a luxury condo in the West 50s. Morgan made the move after his previous Trump Place apartment went on fire (a fish tank lamp was to blame). His new $14,900 a month rental comes complete with “four bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths, private parking and a 1,000-square-foot terrace with views of the city” according to

•    Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne’s Home for Rent
The market for rentals is surging and this can also be said for celebrity homes. Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne recently listed their 4,500-square-foot Malibu home for rent for $40,000 a month for the rest of the summer. For approximately two months, you can reside in the rock star’s cottage complete with five bedrooms, five bathrooms and views of the ocean. The home also features a modern kitchen with stainless steel appliances, flat screen TVs, a fireplace and French doors leading to an outside area with a terrace and to-die-for views of the beach.

•    Pierce Bronsan Puts His Malibu Home on the Market for $3.9 Million
Actor Pierce Brosnan of “James Bond” movies recently listed his Malibu mansion for sale for $3.9 million. His gated beachfront home “designed as an artist’s retreat,” according to the includes an office, a media room, a library, five fireplaces, three bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms. The Mediterranean-style home also features several balconies facing the ocean and nearby mountains. There are no reports as to why Bronsan is selling his luxurious property.

•    Michael Imperioli Lists NYC Townhouse for $6.995 Million
According to the NYPost, “Sopranos” star Michael Imperioli has recently listed his TriBeCa townhouse for sale for $6.995 million. Imperioli’s four-story, 4,720-square-foot home features four bedrooms, three bathrooms, high ceilings and a roof top-deck. On top of all of that, the cast-iron building is described as a “movie set” with draped curtains, gothic décor and an interesting color scheme of deep reds and purples.

•    Paul Allen Purchases Malibu Home for Approximately $25 Million
Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft) recently purchased an oceanfront home in Malibu for $25 million. This modern home features a clean interior finish with floor-to-ceiling glass doors and white stucco. Located on a strip of the beach dubbed “Billionaire’s Beach,” the 5,800-square-foot home features five bedrooms, a deck with a pool, a gym and a screening room, according to the Allen also owns numerous properties in Seattle.


How to Locate a Contractor

A Roofing Job Placed by a Contractor

A New Roof Placed by a Contractor

By Serena Norr

Remodeling is great way to alter some rooms in your home to add value to your property, or as a way to fix and repair existing damage. Anything from adding on new bathroom tiles to expanding your kitchen to knocking down walls can be a great way to add value to your home and of course make it more presentable.

Some people opt to go the do-it-yourself route as they channel their inner decorator/contractor in order to save money. This can be a great idea for simple projects like painting and gardening, but with massive projects such as landscaping or window installation it is better to hire a professional such as a contractor.

Once you decide to hire a contractor, there will be the challenge of actually finding one and not finding just anyone, but someone whose services, rates, professionalism and personality are all on par with what you need. This will require some time and research on your part as you ask friends, post tweets, scour the internet and skim through your phone book. It is also important to figure out exactly what you need (bathroom tiles), as well your design ideas (pink elephants on the tiles, but not too pink) and of course your budget. Having in-house meetings where you can ask questions, show the potential contractor your home, as well as receive multiple bids is huge when locating a contractor. Be wiry of going with the cheapest bid, sometimes this may be the right decision, but the old adage of “you get what you pay for” is certainly prevalent with some contractors. You also want to pick someone that you get along with since they will be working for you, as well as fixing or creating part of your home. Through this preparation you will soon be working with the contractor of your dreams.

1. Contractors from Friends and Family Referrals
Word-of-mouth research is a great (and easy) way to locate contractors. Start by asking your co-workers, friends and family members for referrals. These first-hand experiences will be the best way to hear contractor stories from a trusted source. You can also visit the homes where the contractor worked, which is a great way to see their work before you even meet with them.

2. Social Media Contractors
Twitter, Facebook, Digg (and many others) have changed the way in which we share information and locating a contractor is no different. Post on your wall or write a tweet that you are seeking a contractor, along with the specific details of your job (if characters permit). You may also see postings about contractors on another friend’s wall, which was the case with one of our readers. She writes: “A friend/former colleague posted on Facebook about a roofing job he was just completing at his home and mentioned the contractor who was doing the work. He praised the good work this contractor was doing so I wrote back asking for details. He posted photos of the contractor’s work to my wall and forwarded along contact information. We’re planning to use these guys this summer for some home projects.”

3. Contractors in your Neighborhood
Another great way to locate a contractor is to be on the look out for any home construction projects in your neighborhood.  Even if you don’t know your neighbors, asking a few questions about their contractors and their services will narrow down your selections. In the very least, it will add another connection on your list of prospective contractors.

4. Searching for a Contractor Online
Yes, you can find a contractor via the Internet, but you have to be very aware of too-good-to-be-true prices and claims online. Make a list of four-five contractors that you are interested in; based on their services, rates, Better Business Bureau to see if any unresolved issues or complaints were taken out against the contractor. You can also check out the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and Contractor Check, which allows consumers to search for contractors in their area, check their background, licenses, years in business, insurances of if  they have any complaints. You can also locate a reputable and licensed contractor through our extensive database of local professionals. When looking at prices online, don’t use those numbers as concrete figures until a contractor actually visits your home and you receive an estimate in writing. You can also locate contractors on sites like Craigslist, where local contractors post advertisements about their service, etc, but also be sure to look into references and liabilities when going this route. Also, this goes without saying, but be wary of any contractor that only accepts cash or requires money upfront.

5. Phone Books for a Contractor
Not many people use phone books anymore, but these local directories can be a great way to locate a contractor. The same way you searched for contractors online, you can also try your luck by finding one from the yellow pages. This is also not very time-consuming and you can go at your pace. When you call a contractor, have these calls be a consultation where you ask companies about their services, company history and customer experiences. Generally, contractors that are reputable have a list of customers that have agreed to act as references. Ask the rep or contractor themselves if you can have the names and contact information of past customers. If they don’t have these listings you can also ask where you can see examples of their past jobs (pictures, websites, etc).

This initial call may even determine if you want to meet with them in-person based on the amount of information that you received to the demeanor of the customer service rep. Also, be aware of guarantees or if a rep tells you have to make a decision now and offers you a rate over the phone, as this also can fall into the “too good to be true” category. Based on what information you like, arrange to meet with these individuals in person.


8 Questions to Ask a Prospective Contractor

So the moving company has left, all your stuff is set up perfectly and you’re looking to get some work done. Don’t hire a contractor without first asking these questions:

Are you covered?
This is a question with no wiggle room. Under so circumstances should you work with an individual or company that is not licensed and bonded. That means requesting–and verifying–proof that he or she is currently state licensed, paying employees legally and carrying workers’ compensation, property damage and liability insurance.

What clubs do you belong to?
If your prospective contractor has a list of clubs and associations they belong to, it’s always a good sign. Usually, members are encouraged to attend continuing education program courses, and they often receive professional designations such as Certified Graduate Builder (CGB).

What is the estimate?
Along with the other questions you want to ask during the process of hiring a contractor, you should request an itemized estimate from each. Be sure to look over the information thoroughly, paying particular attention to those that seem too high as well as too low. Estimates that fall in the shallow end of the pool can be a red flag for a hasty job that won’t leave you with a quality product; those on the high end might have artificially inflated prices.

Can I have a copy of the schedule?
You need to know exactly how long that kitchen renovation is going to take. Before you hire a contractor, you should ask them to provide you with a fixed start date and a completion date–including any cleanup duties. These dates should be included in the formal written agreement, along with a timetable of the work that’ll be done and a material list of everything that’ll be needed.

What is the payment schedule?
Most professional builders work on a pay-as-you-go basis, receiving partial payments throughout the process. The payments for new construction, also called draws, typically are scheduled as a certain percentage of the total cost when specific stages of construction are completed. Avoid any contractor who wants full payment before starting the job.

In addition to your references, can I have a list of previous customers?
It’s one thing to talk to a list of people the contractor has prepared for your call; it’s another thing to cold call prior customers from whom you’re more likely to get an honest assessment.

Can I see some of your projects?
Good builders are proud of their work and enjoy showing it to potential clients. Ask to see photographs of complete projects, and choose someone whose work looks similar to the job you’re planning.

How do you schedule call backs?
You want to know what to expect and how to best contact the contractor if, for any reason, they need to come back and fix or redo a job. Go with the person that has a concrete plan for these types of issues.

Related Articles:
How to Set Your Home Improvement Plan
Hiring a Contractor: When to Know When You Need One
How to Get Along With Contractors