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5 Secrets Your Contractor Doesn't Want You to Know

If you're planning a home improvement project, you're probably considering many different contractors and wondering how in the world you will choose the right one.

Some renovation projects run like a dream, but the wrong contractor can lead you down a road paved with delays, mistakes, and headaches. Picking a quality contractor means taking a lot of things into consideration — including a few things that contractors might not want you to know. 

  1. He's not the only game in town.
    There's no surer way to make a bad decision than feeling like you have no other choice. So remember, no matter what your contractor might like you to believe, there are always other options. Be sure to solicit at least three bids from three different contractors, and go with one that you're sure is right for your project.
  2. Cheaper isn't always better.
    We all like to save money, but some things are cheaper for a reason. Resist the temptation to go with a budget contractor who will cut corners to save you money. A lot of factors go into the dollar amount of each contractor's bid, including their experience, the quality of their work, and — let's face it — how much they think they can charge you. The bottom line is, don't go with a contractor just because they offer the cheapest bid.

  3. He isn't going to be there every day.
    It's easy to imagine that your contractor will be there in person, day in and day out, working on your house. But the fact is, contractors are mainly delegators who farm out the work to other carpenters, electricians, and plumbers. These may be permanent members of your contractor's team, or they may work for any number of sub-contractors. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's important to understand that your contractor may not be there overseeing the work all the time, and he almost certainly won't be hammering any nails himself.

  4. Your contractor is not a designer.
    While some contractors absolutely have some design skills, contractors are really businessmen, and no matter what they may promise, they can almost never do the work of a designer. With a complex home improvement project, all kinds of professionals are necessary, including a designer in most cases. If your contractor says he has the skills to replace a designer, don't take this claim at face value; insist on seeing a portfolio that can demonstrate his design chops to your satisfaction.

  5. He's going to mark up materials as well as labor.
    Contractors mark up everything they pay out over the course of a project, which is fine. That's how they pay for overhead and the salaries of their employees. But that markup can be as much as 50 percent, so it's wise to do everything you can to bring that number down, like picking out and buying certain items yourself. By buying your own plumbing fixtures, wall tiles, flooring countertops, cabinets, and hardware (i.e. light fixtures, handles, and doorknobs), you remove these items from the contractor's bid, potentially shaving 10 to 20 percent off the cost of the entire project.

When things really click between a homeowner and a contractor, the result can be an amazing renovation of your dream home. When they don't, it can be a disaster. That's why it's so important to choose carefully. When in doubt, go with your gut — if you get an untrustworthy vibe from a potential contractor, that's usually a sure sign that you should take your home improvement elsewhere.

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