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Generations of Americans know that Chevy Chase is the king of clumsy. After all, it's his stumbling, bumbling on-screen antics that have firmly cemented his status among comic royalty. That said, tripping up isn't exactly the path you want to take when it comes to finding, hiring, and working with home improvement contractors. If you're hoping to be more like the infallible Ty Webb from the Caddyshack movies than Clark Griswold from the Vacation series, then here's a few tips to help you get off on the right foot.
Finding a Good Contractor
The first, and most important, decision you'll have to make with any home improvement is hiring the right contractor to do the job. After all, you don't want to second guess yourself like Chevy Chase is reported to have done after leaving the original cast of Saturday Night Live after just a year and a half back in '76 (believe it or not, he still talks about it in 2008!). Instead, you want to start your home improvement with total confidence in your new hire. Hereýs how to pull that feat off:
- Research Your ProjectThere's no better way to sniff out frauds, con-men, or incompetents than making sure you know what you're talking about when it comes to your upcoming home improvement. Surf the web, hit the library, or make it a point to visit jobsites, showrooms, and trade shows. Not only will you be better equipped to make the right hire, you'll get a lot of great ideas for how you can design and improve your project, as well.
- Talk to Friends and FamilyIf your inexperience in hiring home improvement experts is holding you back, turn to somebody who's been through it before for a good reference. Talk to local family members, friends, and neighbors, and ask if they've had good experiences working with any professionals in your area (or if there's anybody you should stay away from!).
- Use a Referral ServiceContractor referral services are big business these days, and they can be a great way to find reputable contractors in your area. Take the online contractor referral service ServiceMagic.com, for example. Their contractors are pre-screened, guaranteed to please, and you can check customer ratings on their website to get real life reviews of the work they provide. Finding a contractor has never been easier.
- Get Multiple BidsTalk to anyone in the business and they'll tell you that the best way to guarantee good service and get the best price is to collect bids from multiple contractors (at least 3!) on your project. That way you'll be able to compare personalities, prices, and foster a healthy competition between contractors to obtain your business. For the record, watch out for low-ball estimates and bids that are unreasonably high. Both are red-flags for contractors who either don't know what they're doing, or who are looking to take advantage of homeowners who don't know the going rate.
- Ask for References, and Check ThemNever hire a contractor without asking for a list of references and checking them out personally. Not only will you get honest, down-to-earth opinions about each contractor's strengths and weaknesses, most references won't object to a request to come inspect the final product, the only real way to size up whether a contractor does as good of a job as they claim.
- Go With Your GutDonýt dismiss good personalities or personal connections out of hand. If a contractor rubs you the wrong way during a half hour initial meeting, there's a good chance he's going to drive you crazy over the course of a major home improvement project. A good working relationship is a key component in a successful home improvement undertaking, and one that homeowners often overlook.
Planning, Budgeting, and Smart Business
While you might not agree with Chevy Chase's choices for starring roles since the mid 80s (most of his movies since 1986 have been commercial and critical flops), nobody is arguing with his business sense. It would be an understatement to say that Chase's closet full of clumsy, clueless characters have earned him a pretty healthy piece of the pie. That said, here's some things that you can do to make sure you get the best deal possible on your upcoming project.
- Draw Up a Budget, and Stick to ItOne of the best things you can do to avoid home improvement disaster is to draw up a budget and stick to it, something that Clark Griswold had trouble doing in the film Vegas Vacation. A firm budget will help you to determine the scope of your upcoming project, as well as the building materials and designs that are within your reach. Whatever you do, don't budge when it comes to staying firm on budget issues. Fudge a few hundred dollars here, another fifty there, and it's all-too-easy to find yourself thousands of dollars in the hole. Picture Clark Griswold, head down, walking through a Vegas casino with all his pants pockets turned inside out, and you get the idea.
- Sign a Written ContractIf you're wondering what the best strategy is for sticking to a budget, signing a written contract is a good place to start. According to sources as diverse as the consumer advocate website MyUniverse.us, and the website for White Plains, NY's Department of Consumer Protection, getting it down in writing is the best way to protect your own interests, and to make sure that you and your contractor are on the same page. A few things that every contract should include: a detailed project description, a materials list, a statement that your contractor is responsible for all permits and inspections, start and completion dates, a description of warranties and guarantees on work, guarantees regarding workers comp and liability insurance, and the price and payment schedule that you and your contractor have agreed upon.
Working with Home Improvement Contractors
Finally, when it comes to actually starting your project, and working with your contractor and crew, try to emulate cool, composed, and loveable Chevy Chase characters, rather than the bumbling buffoons. Take Ty Webb of Caddyshack fame (Na na na na na na na na), for example. His laid back attitude and blanket generosity made him the most popular golfer at the country club, traits that would serve any homeowner well while working with home improvement contractors and their crews. Former contractor and current home improvement expert Dave Lupberger writes that going the extra mile isn't a bad idea, either. "Do something unexpected," Lupberger advises, "Show up with a pizza for lunch. On a hot afternoon, show up on your jobsite with cold soda, or with lemonade and cookies. Meet them some morning with coffee and doughnuts. Simple gestures like these show your contractor that you appreciate the job they are doing for you." It's not a bad impulse to follow. After all, who would you work harder for? Somebody that doesn't give you the time of day, or someone that goes out of their way to make your job an easier one?
Home improvement projects don't have to be comedies or tragedies if you know what you're doing and cover your bases. By following these simple suggestions, you'll be well on your way to home improvement success.
Matt Goering, formerly a carpenter and house painter, is a freelance writer for the home improvement industry who has published over 600 articles.