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Just like hiring the right employee takes time, patience and research, so does hiring the right contractor.

Hiring a contractor to complete a major project on your home can seem a bit overwhelming. After all, you’re about to have a stranger complete work on what’s likely your most valuable asset. Plus, they’ll be doing work in a field you probably know little-to-nothing about like roofing, plumbing or carpentry, therefore trust really is paramount.

With every project, there are a lot of moving parts to consider, a substantial amount of money involved, legal processes to follow and a lot of coordination to go around. So whether this is a project you’ve been planning for years or it’s emergency repairs resulting from a natural disaster, there are some basic guidelines you should follow when working with a home improvement contractor to protect yourself and your home.

Select your contractor like you’re hiring a key employee.

Just like hiring the right employee takes time, patience and research, so does hiring the right contractor. Start by talking to your friends, family and associates to see if they’ve worked with someone who did a particularly great job. The internet is also a good resource for researching local companies, reading reviews (from several sites), and looking up their litigation histories and Better Business Bureau ratings.

Set aside some time to call several contractors. Interview them by phone and then in person — be sure to ask lots of questions, listen carefully to their answers, and trust your gut. If they can’t be on time, make eye contact, or provide understandable explanations, move on.

Once you’ve settled on some potential candidates, ask them for quotes and compare the information they provided you about their materials. Lastly, and most importantly, ask to see their licensing and insurance certifications, but don’t forget to verify them with the issuer.

Now you should be prepared to make your decision. Just be sure not to make price your driving motivation in choosing one over another, because cheaper isn’t always better — you want quality work and quality materials for your home. You may even be able to use the lower quotes of others as a negotiation tool with the contractor you want.

Ensure your work agreement entails more than a handshake.

Ensure your work agreement entails more than a handshake.

Once you’ve shaken hands with your selected contractor, your work is far from done. Now comes the centerpiece of the puzzle — making agreements and entering into contracts. It’s at this point in the process that you must be diligent in getting everything down on paper.

Get copies of the plans and warranties. Read the contract thoroughly. If you have any questions or concerns, be sure they’re addressed before you sign anything. Then have the contractor submit the required permits with your local government and explain the process to you along with providing an expected timeline. This is also a great time to set some ground rules, like which time of day work can be done and who in your family is authorized to make decisions.

Included in your contract should be a written payment schedule that you both agree to, with your initial payments being no more than 10 percent of the project’s total cost. When making your payments to your contractor, avoid paying with cash. You’re going to want a paper trail, so use a credit card or cashier’s check instead.

Don’t let your guard down until the end.

Once work has started on your home, be sure to communicate with your contractor regularly. Get updates on the progress, inspect their work and ask for receipts on the materials that they use. If your final payment date approaches, and the work is not 100 percent complete, don’t make your payment until the last nail is driven, the workspace is cleaned up and you’ve completed a final inspection.

Last but not least, don’t forget to pay it forward. If your contractor did an outstanding job, let the world know. Share photos, write reviews and give references. Not only will you help others looking for contractors, you’ll help yours build their business. Who knows, you may need to call on them again someday.

Looking to get started on the home improvement project of your dreams? Take a look at the FAIRWINDS Home Improvement Loan for smaller projects totaling less than $15,000 or explore our Home Equity Loans for bigger renovations.

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