How to find a reliable contractor

Home Work

October 25, 1998|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

A RECENT e-mailing to Ron will probably strike a chord with a lot of readers, because it describes a common problem homeowners face.

"We have had a couple kitchen remodelers in to view our house," writes Jim Manley of Baltimore, "and they have suggested that the cabinets are fine. They suggest just adding a new counter top. That is good news, but we want to do a small island and the contractors that we have been given names for either will not come out or won't respond afterward. One did come out and took measurements, then wouldn't respond to calls or faxes. It seems like maybe too small a job, or is the market so good that they can pick and choose?"

Manley has basically said it all when it comes to finding someone to do small jobs. Ron hears these complaints often, even on larger projects. So what can a person do to get a contractor to follow through on an estimate -- or at least return a call and say he's not interested?

The economy is very good right now, and most established remodeling contractors have all the work they can handle. So before you waste your time making an appointment with a contractor or firm, describe what you need done and ask point blank if this is a job they are interested in. Ask them not to bother looking at it unless they intend to follow through with it.

Where you look for such a person is important, too. There are some remodelers who specialize in small jobs, or in specific trades. If you look in the classified section of the newspaper under home improvement, you will find people who are seeking work. (Also look under such categories as painting, wallpapering or other specific skills if that's what you need.) Unlike the telephone book, where ads are placed a year in advance, these ads are placed on a weekly basis. A company looking for work can hope for a quick response.

In addition, newer companies are more likely to need work because they have yet to build a client base for referrals, and new contacts, such as your job, will help them do that. In Maryland, the way to identify a new company is by their license number with the Maryland Home Improvement Commission. The higher the number, the newer the company. Ron's number is 30428, acquired in 1987; licenses being issued now are in the 60000s.

Even after you find someone, as with any remodeling project, you will still need to do your homework. Call your local home-improvement commission (in Maryland: 410-333-6309) and ask if there are any unresolved complaints against the company you are considering, how long they have been in business, and if they have been in business under a different name. You could also call the Better Business Bureau.

Get references and call them, and be sure to get insurance certificates. In Maryland, the law says all licensed contractors must carry liability insurance. Contractors who have employees must also carry workmen's compensation insurance. If you hire someone to work on your house who does not have proper insurance, you are liable for injury expenses or damage expenses -- to your property or to your neighbors'.

Last, but not least, specify everything about the project in writing: what will be done, how much it will cost, how you will pay for it, when the work will start and when it will be finished.

For a free remodeling guide from the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, call 410-265-7400.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at or Karol at Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, pTC 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 10/25/98

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