How to Hire a Contractor

Be Specific and Make Sure You Get it in Writing

Thousands of homeowners whose residences were damaged by the flooding brought on by Hurricane Harvey are going to need professional help in repairing, restoring and renovating their homes.

Flood damage can be particularly devastating, so it’s important to bring in experts who know what they are doing ? and to do your homework to make sure you hire professionals who will get the job done, not take the money and run. Here are ten things to help you select the right team for the job.

1. Assess the situation: Before calling in potential contractors, take a detailed inventory of your situation and what needs to be done. You may not be an expert in home repair, but common sense will go a long way in helping you determine the scope of the job. It will also serve as a helpful starting point in discussing the work to be done with home repair specialists.

2. Talk to your insurance company: Make sure you understand what coverage you have and what insurance will pay for and what it won’t. Most insurance covers damage from falling water but not rising water, such as flooding. Depending on your situation, you may want to proceed with minimal repairs or take this as an opportunity to remodel your home the way you always wanted it.

3. Seek impartial recommendations: Instead of blindly picking a contractor online, ask friends, neighbors, relatives and business associates for recommendations of professionals they have used in the past and whose work was acceptable. Beware of contractors going door to door in flood ravaged areas looking for work or offering to do work while they are in the area working on other jobs. And be sure to check references, including the Better Business Bureau, to see what others have to say about their work.

4. Fair comparison: With a written description of the project, you can make sure you are on the same page with all of your prospective contractors. This will help you compare the bids and proposals you receive ? in writing ? from contractors bidding on the job. Make sure they include labor, materials and a projected timeline for the completion of work to be done.

5. Select a contractor you are comfortable with: Repairing flood damage can be a lengthy process, so make sure you are comfortable communicating with them because the work required could take weeks, or longer, to complete.

6. Verify capabilities: The State of Texas does not require contractors to be licensed, so anyone with a pickup and a tool belt can call themselves a contractor. But many municipalities require building permits for structural repairs and licensed repairs ? and inspections by the city ? of electrical, plumbing, HVAC and other key areas of construction. It’s important that your contractor is aware of and follows local regulations by securing permits in advance of construction and that the work is inspected and approved by city officials upon completion.

7. Hidden damage: Be aware that flood damage can result in serious consequences that may not be seen or make themselves known for several weeks or months. Moisture in the walls can lead to mold, a serious health risk that can be hazardous to your respiratory system and quite expensive to fix. Make sure your contractor has the experience and expertise to fix potential mold problems before closing up walls and installing sheetrock, countertops and other building components.

8. Put it in writing: A contract for work to be done should be very specific about the scope of the project, anticipated costs and how payment is to be handled. Do not assume something will be covered as a matter of general practice. Anything not specifically addressed in the agreement is subject to later negotiation ? and a likely increase in the budget ? if not spelled out in the contract.

9. Don’t pay up front: The Better Business Bureau recommends staggering payment so the final installment is made at the time the job is completed. It’s also important to keep records of the transactions, so don’t pay with cash. If you have to write a check, make sure it’s written out to a company and not an individual. And make sure you keep copies of all payments made, and request a “payment in full” final receipt.

10. Review the project: Once the work is completed, take note of the quality of work and any concerns you have. If there is an issue, it’s best to contact your contractor sooner rather than later to work out potential problems or uncertainties. Feel free to post your experiences online or with the Better Business Bureau to help potential customers.

— Brad Meyer