It's important to do a little research before choosing a contractor Get recommendations, ask about qualifications


EVEN THOUGH no one has yet raised a hammer -- or maybe even touched a checkbook -- your remodeling project has reached an important stage. With your plan laid out, your budget set, your specifications and drawings in hand, it's time to decide who will do the work.

If it means choosing a contractor, it's a process that can easily lead to panic. It's an important decision. This is not just sticks and bricks, this is someone with whom you will be spending a great deal of time, someone who will be involved in your life in an oddly intimate way.

"How do I find a contractor?" is perhaps the most asked question we get. And there's not a simple answer. You have to do the homework, you have to find the names and make the calls and ask the questions.

Contrary to some popular opinion, not all contractors are greedy crooks out to take your money and disrupt your life. Good contractors work extremely hard, and they care a great deal about their reputations. Most job-site problems are the result of poor communication between the homeowner and the contractor (and rarely is only one party at fault).

This is why having excellent drawings and specs is so important: It can eliminate much of this difficulty. Nothing can eliminate every problem from a process as complicated as building, but having a clear path and identical expectations of how to follow it will certainly make your project more pleasant.

So how do you find your contracting soul mate -- or at least somebody you can get along with pretty well for the days, weeks, or months you will be working together?

The first and best place to look for a potential contractor is among friends or neighbors who have done something similar, and who had a good experience with their contractor. Word of mouth is still the best way to locate a contractor.

If, however, you can't find a recommendation by word of mouth, there are other places to look. Your local builders' association is a good place to start. In our area it would be the Remodeler's Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, in Woodlawn. (An active membership in a professional or trade association is considered to indicate an interest in professionalism in the industry.) You can also check advertising and, if you have access to the Internet, you can look there.

Don't be shy about asking about qualifications and job habits, or about interviewing a number of people to find one who's a good fit for you.

Next: Specific questions to ask prospective contractors.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator, Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and current president of the Remodelers Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for the Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at or Karol at Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 6/14/98

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