Home Improvement: 5 Steps for Hiring a Contractor

By David Pitt, AP Personal Finance Writer

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Anyone who has ever wanted to remodel a kitchen or a bathroom knows how such projects tend to linger. When times are tight, homeowners often put off renovations as they cut back on anything but necessities.

All told, spending on remodeling and repairs fell to an estimated $280 billion last year. That was down from $326 billion at the 2007 peak, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard. And a languishing housing market will mean a slow recovery.

"There's a huge labor pool out there of people who may be qualified in their particular area, but not qualified to manage or run an entire remodeling project," said Dean Herriges, president-elect of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. "The market is flooded with people who may think they're capable of doing remodeling projects, but they're not."

The economy has been hard on contractors who saw work dry up. That has created a lot of eager carpenters, plumbers, drywall installers, and others looking for work. So if you're looking to hire a contractor you may be able to find an attractive price, but choose carefully.

Here are 5 key steps to follow in the hiring process.

1. Obtain referrals

There are several ways to find potential contractors.

Usually the easiest is to begin by seeking recommendations from family members and friends. Tap into social networking sites, such as Facebook, to expand your reach. Keep in mind though that anyone making a personal referral may not have had the same type of work done or a similar budget.

Another option is to join the consumer-reviews website Angie's List at http://www.angieslist.com and research contractors there. Joining requires a monthly fee, often around $5, although it's cheaper if you sign up for a year or more.

Suggestions could also come from local professionals who do business with reliable contractors, including your city's building inspector or a lumber supply store.

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