real estate

Hire a Reliable Contractor

The first step in adding value to your home is hiring the right contractor to complete the project.

The first step in adding value to your home is hiring the right contractor to complete the project. These guidelines will help you make the right choices to protect your investment.

Send a query to an e-mail group that covers your neighborhood, or check watchdog Web sites, such as AngiesList.com. Be aware that a contractor's references will showcase the best work, not the goofs.

Consider only licensed contractors or members of a professional group, such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. If things go wrong, you'll have venues where you can air a grievance, and perhaps tap a homeowners-reimbursement fund. Find your state's rules at www.contractors-license.org.

Spell out the details. Contracts should specify a start date, a completion date and a payment schedule -- for example, 10% down, 10% to 15% after each major milestone and the final 10% only upon satisfactory completion of the project.

Be excruciatingly exact. Instead of instructing contractors to "install cabinets," try "install 42-inch, country-style oak kitchen cabinets per plan, manufactured by company XYZ, model ABC, with finish EFG and matching 3-inch dentil crown molding."

Ask for receipts after each subcontractor is paid, or write checks jointly to the contractor and subcontractors. Or hire a third party, such as the bank that's administering your loan, to make the payments on your behalf.

NEXT: Protect Your Home and Valuables

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