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Choosing a Contractor for a Bathroom Remodel

A little legwork is required to find the best contractor for your bathroom remodeling project. Here are some ideas for making that effort pay off.

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When choosing a contractor to head up your bathroom remodel, a few simple steps can mean the difference between complete confidence and sleepless nights.

Ask for Referrals
Word of mouth — hands down, it's the best way to find a qualified professional to tackle the job. Ask relatives, friends and neighbors whom they have had good experiences with. Also ask what made it a positive experience, how the contractor handled problems and whether he or she would use the same contractor again.

Look at Credentials
With recommendations in hand, do some preliminary research, whether that's with a phone call or a visit to the contractor's website. Find out whether he or she holds all the required licenses from the state and local municipalities, as well as designations from any professional associations like the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) or the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB). Look for contractors who have invested in coursework and passed rigorous tests in order to earn a particular certification. Be aware, however, that all certifications are not created equal. "I would find out what the certification is and what it took to get it," says Sara Ann Busby, NKBA president-elect and owner of Sara Busby Designs in Elk Rapids, Mich.

Interview Candidates
Narrow down the list of contenders, and set up meetings. What is the magic number of contractors to interview? "Ultimately, the right amount could be one," says Al Pattison, past president of NKBA, but he recommends talking with no more than three. "With too many quotes, it gets too confusing trying to make a decision." NARI offers a list of questions to ask potential contractors on its website.

How a contractor answers questions is extremely important, but communication goes both ways. "One of the most important things [a homeowner] can find in a designer and a builder is somebody who listens to them," Sara Ann says. "One of the things that's made us successful is we don't do all the talking."

Chemistry also weighs heavily into the selection of a contractor. "This is a longstanding relationship. You have to trust the person you're working with," Al says.

Check References
Once rapport has been established, ask to see some of the contractor's projects. If they meet with approval, request references and then actually call the contractor's former customers to check up on them. Ask how the contractor did at executing the project. Was it on-time and on-budget? Were they pleased with the outcome? Was there anything that could have been done differently?

Get it in Writing
After zeroing in on one contractor who seems right for the job, take a look at the documents he or she has prepared. Do they look professional? Scrutinize the contract. Does it seem fair and balanced? Also, make sure the legal agreement includes the following:
- a bid price and payment schedule
- the scope of work
- a site plan
- a sequential schedule of primary construction tasks
- a change-order clause
- a written procedural list for close-out
- an express limited warranty
- a clause about dispute resolution
- a waiver of lien, which would prevent subcontractors and suppliers from putting a lien on a house should their invoices go unpaid by the contractor

If everything checks out, you can sign on the dotted line with confidence.

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