How to Hire a Contractor
By Tiffany M. Hughes

Take time to think about the space you want to remodel.

Think about how you use the space, and how you move in it. Do you find yourself wasting time and energy walking back and forth across a room to complete a simple task, or does it kill your knees walking up and down two flights of steps to do a load of laundry? Keep these in mind as you plan your projects. If you find that your floor plan isn't working for your lifestyle, think about what changes would help.

Prioritize your updates.
Once you have a master list of projects, go through it and decide what's most important to you, and what you want to do first. Consider how time-sensitive each project is; if you have a baby on the way, for example, you might want to rank any nursery or baby-related projects higher than, say, finishing the basement. Knowing your short-term and long-term needs can really carry you through the decision-making process.

Determine your budget.
Sit down with all of your financial records, and when you've come to a number, take 15-20% off of it; THAT'S the budget you want to keep within. Reserve this extra money for any surprises that come your way during the process, because you never know what hidden issues lurk under your floor or in your walls.

Research, research, research!

Ask around for referrals from family, friends, coworkers and neighbors first; get the names of at least 2-3. If you resort to search engines to locate contractors, beware; many of the larger companies that rank high on search engines tend to have significantly higher prices, so don't get bids solely from them just because you know the name or because they're the top search result. You can often find a good small-time contractor if you look hard enough.

Before you call, conduct an online search for the company name and the owner's name, and check out their Better Business Bureau rating. Review their website and any social media or blogs to learn more about the company, previous work and how their process works.

Ask the right questions.
Request references; this is especially important if you weren't able to get referrals. (When contacting references, ask about the level of professionalism, timeliness, cleanliness, respectfulness of your home, the value of their services, and anything else that is a top concern.) Ask about how long they've been in business, their specialties, and if they are licensed and insured; get proof if you can.

Ask for options.
If you're not sure of some details, share them with your contractors and ask them to provide a couple of options at different price points, so you can see how your decisions would affect your budget. Be sure to request costs to be broken down by line item as well, so you can see where your money is going and determine any simple solutions that can save you money.

Make the smart decision.
When you've gathered your bids, don't automatically base your decision completely on price, if possible. You need to be comfortable with the person you hire, and you need to be able to trust that they will treat your home with respect. Think about their attitude; are they professional, or do they talk down to you and disregard your concerns or issues? Consider communication skills as well; if a contractor never returns your calls, it will be worth it to spend a little more for someone who makes customer relationships a priority.

Get it in writing.
It's important to get any agreements in writing. It's worth it to make sure that you are both on the same page, just in case there are any disagreements later on down the road. Make sure your agreements cover the payment schedule and any other preferences that are important to you. If any plans change along the way, try to get email records that confirm any changes you mutually agree upon; that way you have records to refer to in case there is any confusion later on down the road.

Remember, home remodeling doesn't have to be stressful; if you plan effectively, research adequately and choose your contractor wisely, you might even enjoy the process. Happy hiring!