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Ask questions before hiring contractor

Finding a good contractor can be daunting, especially when home improvement demands are still surging since lockdowns. For this article’s purposes, when I say “contractor” I mean any craftsman, tradesman (i.e. plumber, electrician), handyman, etc. A stunning word of mouth referral is ideal when choosing a contractor, but how else can we find Mr. or Ms. Right contractor?

Lately I’ve noticed an Ace Handyman Services truck around town. This franchised company is new to the Las Vegas Valley since 2019. Their company credo is “Like It’s Our Home” promise. They actually return calls promptly, then assess which craftsmen to send according to your project. They’re also licensed by the Nevada Contractors Board, bonded and insured.

A grassroots way to find contractors is to inquire in our local hardware stores. Ace Hardware, for example, will even give you a list of names to help — from painters to electricians. True Value has a corkboard with contractor business cards.

When seeking out contractors, there are a few must-ask questions.

References: A contractor should be ready and willing to provide references, ones that you can personally contact (that aren’t his buddies). He should also have photos of similar past work to show you.

Licensed, bonded and insured: A bonafide contractor won’t hesitate to provide you with proof of his licensing, bonding and insurance. This assurance is especially important for business and liability issues. That said, there are excellent contractors out there that aren’t licensed and their prices will typically be lower.

Better Business Bureau: Check to see if the contractor has an ugly record with the BBB. A minor complaint, however, should not be a deal breaker if all other criteria are positive. At the BBB you can also verify how many years he’s been in business.

Disposition: Does the contractor talk down to you or give any signs of impatience? These are red flags. Also, if he brings a subcontractor or partner, see if they’re respectful and communicate well with one another.

Trust your instincts: Do you feel pressured? A legit contractor won’t pressure you or offer up anything that seems too good to be true, like a huge discount or payment financing through a lender he knows.

As you move forward to getting estimates, consider the following tips. FYI: An estimate is just that, a good faith prediction. A bid is a formal commitment to a price. Once both parties sign a bid, you have a legally binding contract.

Get three detailed estimates in writing.

■ Make sure the estimate is on company stationary with all pertinent info (name, address, license number, etc.).

■ Start and finish time frame is indicated.

■ Any permits and their expenses are notated.

■ Demolition, cleanup and haul-away responsibilities are laid out.

■ Material * details are specified.

■ Payment schedule is structured and fair.

■ Costs should be broken down so you can compare line items from other contractors.

■ Any warranties and guarantees of workmanship stated.

* You may save money if you purchase your own materials, however it’s risky. Let’s say you order the wrong size windows; it’s your problem.

Payment diligence.

■ Never pay everything up front.

■ Deposits have no hard and fast rule; it depends on the job and materials. Ten percent to 20 percent is common, however, one-third installments are also customary. If materials are very costly, you may be asked to pay 50 percent up front, which will cover materials. Request to pay for materials directly yourself.

■ Don’t let payments get ahead of the work.

■ Cash payments aren’t advisable because there’s less paper trail. If you want to pay cash, negotiate a discount after the amount is established.

You must get a proper receipt that’s dated and signed by both parties.

■ Hold back at least 15 percent until work is totally completed and, when applicable, passes inspection.

■ In a nutshell, pay as little as you can, as late in the game as possible.

Norma Vally is a seasoned veteran of home improvement; her career includes four seasons as host of Discovery Home Channel’s Emmy-nominated series “Toolbelt Diva.” A columnist and author, Vally splits her time in Southern Nevada, Los Angeles and New York City. Follow her on Facebook at Norma Vally “Toolbelt Diva” and visit her at www.NormaVally.com. Email Norma@NormaVally.com.

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