Know what you want before you get estimates. Start with a plan and some ideas,. Don’t start by talking to contractors. You’ll get a more accurate estimate if you can be very specific in what you want done and the materials you would like to use to make it happen.

Expect a contractor to be too busy to start right away.  The best contractors are the busy ones.

Ask what work will be done by the contractor’s employees and what work will be done by subcontractors. Ask for an employee list to make sure the contractor really has the employees he says he does and won’t be using casual labor hired off the street.

Choose the right contractor for the right project. Someone who did a good job tiling your neighbor’s bathroom isn’t necessarily the right person to build an addition to your home. You want to find a company that routinely does the kind of project you want done.

Check references. See if you can talk to current customers because those clients have the most recent experience working with the contractor.

Read online reviews. Yelp and Google also have some reviews. You want to read the reviews carefully to make sure the contractor is the right person for your job and will work well with you. Keep in mind that reading reviews is not a substitute for checking references.

Don’t pay more than 10 percent of the job total before the job starts. You don’t want a contractor to use your money to finish someone else’s job. Some contractors may  ask for up to 30 percent if expensive materials are needed immediately. The contract should include a payment schedule and triggers for progress payments.

Negotiate ground rules. Discuss what hours the contractor can work at your home, what kind of notice you’ll get, what bathroom the workers will use and what will be cleaned up at the end of every workday.

Talk to the contractor frequently. For a big job, you may need to talk every day. If you see a potential issue, speak up immediately. Something that is done wrong will be harder to fix later after your contractor has packed up and moved on to his next job.

Verify insurance coverage. Know what is covered by your homeowners insurance and what is covered by your contractor’s business insurance. Get a copy of the company’s insurance policy.

Don’t make the final payment until the job is 100 percent complete. Contractors are notorious for finishing most of the job and then moving on before they get to the final details. Don’t make the final payment until you are completely satisfied with the work and have all the lien releases and receipts.

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