What are the key things to ask for when requesting bids from contractors for home improvements? I have plans which are in the process of being approved to add on about 1500 sq ft to my house. I want to get at least three estimates to compare.
Pastor - Miami, FL
Pastor, you're off to a good start by getting three bids for your remodeling project. As I'm sure you already know, this provides the opportunity to compare the scopes of work of the three contractors as well as their prices. There have been numerous times when an oversight on a project was caught by one of the contractors bidding my jobs. These types of issues can usually be handled without problem before the project starts, but might be costly once work begins.
In answer to your question, here are several items I suggest you ask for from the contractors bidding your project:
- Licensing -- Check with your local building department to be sure, but most states require that the contractor have a license for your type of remodeling project. The contractors bidding the job should be able to provide their state licensing number which can be verified by calling your local government office that handles licensing or the state office. Many states allow you to verify the number online.
- Insurance -- I recommend that you don't allow a contractor to lift a hammer on your project without ensuring they have proper insurance coverage -- especially a liability policy. If a contractor damages your home while working and they don't have adequate insurance coverage, you could get stuck paying for the repairs. And don't look to your homeowner's policy carrier for help, as they normally don't cover damage done by an uninsured contractor. Most states have minimum coverage amounts that contractors must maintain. Ask to see the contractors' insurance certificates and check the policy dates.
- Contract -- Even if you hire your best friend as the contractor, insist on a written contract -- it can eliminate a lot of confusion and headaches during the project. The contract should spell out the entire scope of work, allowance amounts, who is responsible for providing what, when payments are to be made, and a completion schedule. Don't hesitate to ask questions if you don't understand something in the contract as they can sometimes be confusing.
- References -- Just because a contractor has installed shingles or painted a room doesn't mean they can handle a home addition. Ask for a list of references from past customers who had projects similar to your addition and don't be afraid to make some calls -- visits are even better.
Lastly, listen to your gut feeling. While you don't need to become friends with the contractor, the project is usually much more enjoyable when everyone gets along.