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Getting the Best Bids from Contractors

By Charles Hopkins Published 10/23/2007 | Home Improvement
You want a contractor to replace your aging central air conditioner, paint your house, repair your porch, or a host of other tasks. How can you make sure you get the best bids from your potential list of contractors?

Know What Should be Done
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Before you call any contractors you'll need to determine what you want done. Think about what you want in detail and write everything down. This will be the start of your task and requirements list. You'll will want to include items in your task and requirements list in each contractor's proposal.

Next, ask neighbors or friends who have had similar work done about their recommendations and experiences with contractors. You're sure to get some ideas that can help smooth out your experience and get a more satisfying result. Make sure to write down any suggestions you consider beneficial for your project.

You should contact your city hall to determine if a permit is required before the work is started. If a permit is required there will likely be an inspection of the work after it is complete. See if you can get any details about what the inspector will be looking for. This can help you flesh out your task and requirements list.

You can investigate handyman websites to determine specific techniques, products and equipment that may be recommended for similar projects. Some techniques (like screwing in plaster boards rather than nailing them) may have better long term results. Suggestions on these sites can add to your task and requirements list.

If your project includes the installation of new equipment like a furnace or air conditioner you should look at manufacturer's websites to learn as much as you can about their products. Understanding your options can help you narrow down the list of equipment you will accept.

The more you can learn about how the work can be performed and the equipment to be installed the better prepared you will be to ensure that all the contractor's bids will include comparable techniques and equipment.

In addition to specific techniques and equipment requirements, you may want to ensure the bids include some or all of the following requirements:

- Contractor will pull all required permits
- Work will meet city inspection requirements
- Workers will clean up after completion
- Old equipment and supplies will be removed
- Dust within the house will be controlled
- Work will be completed within a specified number of days after starting

Questions for Potential Contractors
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Some contractors are well established companies while others are small independent businesses. Some consist of a single individual who may sometimes work with an assistant.

Some large companies employ their own work force, some of whom have been with the company for many years. Other large companies subcontract the work out to smaller local businesses.

So, to make a better decision about the company and the workers who will be at your home you may want to ask each salesman some of the following questions:

- Are your workers employees or do you subcontract out your work?
- What references do you have from local homeowners who had similar work done?
- Are workers covered by workman's compensation?

Getting Your Bids
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Once you are prepared with the details of the work to be done and are primed with questions for your potential contractor, you are ready to set up appointments. You should probably get at least three bids on your job.

You can select potential contractors from recommendations from neighbors, from the phone book, and from contractor selection websites. Some websites that have lists of contractors include:

- National Association of Home Builders (http://www.nahb.org/)
- Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (http://phccweb.org/)
- AngiesList (http://www.angieslist.com/)

For most large companies you will be meeting with a salesperson who will provide a bid for your work. For smaller contractors you may meet with one of the owners or one of the actual workers who will perform the work.

Your goals for these bid proposal interviews should be to get a bid that includes all the items in your task and requirements list and is good for 10 to 30 days. This length depends on when you want work on your project to start.

Some salesmen may use high pressure tactics to get you to commit to a contract during their visit. They may give you a relatively high "standard" price and then offer incentive discounts for you to sign a contact immediately. They may offer a 10% discount to sign a contract during their "first visit." You might get another 10% off for signing up this week. Your emotions can cause you to want to sign a contract immediately to get this terrific deal.

Your best protection from high pressure techniques is your level commitment to your goals. To remain in control of your interview and avoid the emotions of the high pressure sales techniques you must remain committed to getting a bid that includes all the items in your task and requirements list and is good for 10 to 30 days.

For additional information about selecting and investigating a contractor see the Federal Trade Commission's online consumer site about contractors:
http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/services/homeimpv.shtm

The better prepared you are for your interviews with salesmen, the better bids you will receive and the less pressure you will feel. And, that means you will be more satisfied with the entire home improvement process.