​With the many choices of home improvement shows on television, you might get the impression renovating a home on your own can be accomplished all by yourself. While some home projects could be considered “Do It Yourself”, accessible to someone willing to put in the time and effort, there are some projects that simply go beyond the scope of the average homeowner. No matter how easy it may look on TV, knocking down a wall isn’t for everyone. At some point, you’re going to need to find service professionals to help you get the work done.

Aside from being shelter and security, your home is also an investment. When deciding to invest more into your home with maintenance or improvements, it is important to choose the right contractors to help maximize that investment. Wondering how you can avoid projects that end up going over-time, over-budget, and below standards? These simple tips are a good place to start.

  • Check References and Reviews – The internet has made it very easy to rate and review businesses in real time. Whether you’re looking on an aggregated review site such as Yelp or Angie’s List or in a simple Google search, almost any business with a phone number or website listed will also have a digital record of past reviews. These reviews can give insight into the experience and professionalism you can expect from a given contractor. Don’t limit your research to looking only at the number of “stars” a business has. Looking deeper into the individual reviews can give you more insight and a feel as to why these past customers rated a business a certain way. Positive reviews can let you know the strengths of a contractor, and negative reviews can show you how a contractor may have improved over a period of time. Also, compare reviews from competing firms in your area. Depending on the number of reviews posted, one bad experience could drag down a score, even if the reviewer’s complaints weren’t necessarily the fault of the contractor in question. This is where local references are important. If reviews have been posted by businesses, see if you can go and see examples of actual completed projects in person. Seeing first-hand what a contractor has done in the past can be a good indicator as to what you can expect, should you hire them.
  • Confirm Licenses and Permits – In most jurisdictions, contractors are required to be licensed and permitted. Verify the contractor is licensed by the appropriate agencies and up to date. In some cases, local officials in charge of licensing and permits may know the contractor’s work through past dealings, and can be another useful reference for previously completed projects. Make sure that any required permits from your city or county are properly acquired and followed- unpermitted work can result in loss of value, fines, and even the forced removal of completed work.
  • Proof of Insurance – All contractors need insurance and most are bonded. Ask to see the proof of insurance before allowing anyone to work in your home. Insurance protects both their employees and you from injuries and damages.
  • Get it in Writing – It’s hard to argue with a written estimate that clearly explains the scope of the work. Sit down with your contractor and work out the details before the project begins- clarify any concerns from either party. Include expectations, deadlines, and pricing in your written estimate. Consider contingencies that cover extraneous conditions, such as delays or extensions to the project. Before you sign that agreement, make sure you understand what’s included in the agreement, and that you trust those who are going to be working on your house. The contractor and anyone in their crew will be in your home regularly during the course of the project.

Hiring the right person for your home improvement or maintenance job can be time-consuming but is well worth the effort. Doing your homework upfront can avoid costly mistakes.