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Tips for Seniors Working with Contractors

Because most homeowners (especially seniors) are not able to make complex home repairs or renovations themselves, they generally rely on the skills and expertise of qualified contractors. But before you go hiring the first contractor you find online or in the phone book, make sure to follow these tips:

1. Ask around for referrals.

There are several ways to get referrals or recommendations on good contractors. Most people start with asking around within their family or social circle. Do you know someone who recently had a remodeling or home repair project completed? Ask them who they used. Also ask them how satisfied they were with their work.

Aside from asking people you know, you can also use the Internet as a guide for finding the best contractors in your area. There are many websites that rank contractors and provide you with their contact information. Keep in mind, however, that some sites may not be free. AngiesList.com, for example, charges a fee to use their service of connecting households with service professionals.

2. Get estimates from more than one contractor.

Even though you may be anxious to get your home improvements underway, the biggest mistake you can make in the entire process is jumping into it too quickly – with the wrong contractor. Once you have a few referrals and recommendations from trusted sources, family or friends, start contacting them. But don’t just stop after meeting with the first one. We recommend getting at least three estimates from three different contractors. If you see dramatic differences in price, keep going. The idea is to get a general idea of the average, fair cost of your project. If you get several bids that are all over the place, the contractors may be trying to underbid just to get you to sign the contract. Alternatively, if you see a price that is way higher than the others, that contractor may be padding the estimate to get extra money (quoting most expensive materials, etc.).

3. Ask about their experience in the particular type of job you’re wanting.

Whatever you are hoping to do to your home, make sure the contractor you’re considering is experienced and knowledgeable in that specific work. If you want to make your home wheelchair accessible, ask the contractor if he or she has done this sort of remodeling work before and if they are a certified Aging in Place Specialist. (http://www.nahb.org/category.aspx?sectionID=686) If you want to build an additional room to your home, make sure your contractor has completed add-ons in your area before. If you want a completely redesigned bathroom, make sure the contractor is experienced with working with plumbing.

4. Ask about licensing/insurance.

Any good and honest contractor should hold the necessary licensing and insurance required for their state. Remember, requirements can vary by location.

5. Expect the unexpected.

Things happen, and home repair or remodeling jobs often don’t go exactly as planned, even with the best trained professionals on the job. Don’t be surprised if your project ends up going over time and over budget (at least a little). While the estimate the contractor gave you should provide a rough idea of costs and timeframe, it’s not set in stone.

On the other hand, if things start to drag on for an unreasonably long time, don’t hesitate to speak up. A good contractor should keep you in the loop and communicate any setbacks or problems immediately; however, if they do not, then the responsibility falls on you to take charge and ask what’s taking so long.

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6. Factor in additional expenses.

Depending on the complexity of your project, you may need to factor in several additional expenses when calculating the total cost. For instance, if the project is going to require you to be out of the house for several days, you’ll need to factor in the cost of renting a hotel room. If the job is going to make it so you can’t use your kitchen, then plan on spending more money dining out. If you have pets, you may need to consider the cost of boarding them while the workers are in your home.

7. Know who to contact if there is a problem.

You should probably establish this before you even hire anyone, but a good question to ask once the contract is signed is, “who do I call if I have a problem, question, concern…?” The actual contractor may be working with several sub-contractors so there may be three, four, five or more people coming in and out of your home during the project. If the head contractor is not there and something comes up, make sure you know how to get ahold of him or her as well as who you should talk to in the meantime.

Furthermore, if a problem arises after the job is done, make sure you know who to contact. If you try to contact the contractor after the job’s done only to find they’ve skipped town, went out of business, or just seemed to vanish into thin air, you may be left holding the bag. Hopefully this won’t happen, and if you take the steps listed above, you’ll be much less likely to be a victim of fraud. If you feel like you have been duped, you can contact your local law enforcement to make a report as well as report the suspected fraud on this website. http://www.contractorfraud.net/report.htm

Additional Articles You Might Find Helpful

Senior and Family Resource Section
Wilmington NC Aging in Place Resources and Support
Safety Tips for Seniors Who Live Alone
Tips for Making a Home More Accessible to a Senior with Limited Mobility
Budgeting Ideas for Seniors Living on Fixed Incomes

Learn more about how people are using home equity conversion mortgages for purchasing homes:

Please keep in mind that the reverse mortgage industry is constantly changing and some of the information contained on this site may not be current. Please ask a licensed reverse mortgage professional for up-to-date guidelines.