Do your homework before hiring a contractor

LOS ANGELES "I thought it might be a good time because I know the construction people are looking for work," said Mark Elinson, who thinks he might get a good deal.

In fact, a poll done by the Web site Angieslist.com shows that, even in this down economy, homeowners plan to spend more on home improvements this year than last year. That same poll also showed that contractors still need the work. So much so that many are dropping their prices by at least 10 percent in order to get the job.

"The key is to negotiate," said Angie Hicks, who runs Angieslist.com. "Don't be afraid -- don't skip out on free estimates because that's going to give you a really good idea as to price, and if there is an outlier. And then you can use that to negotiate back and forth."

Contractor Daryl Vidal agrees this is definitely a good time to take advantage if you need some work done at your home.

"In this day and time, with the economy the way it is, nobody is buying houses, nobody is building," said Vidal, The Live Handyman. "Everybody is remodeling things and fixing up what they have."

But even with costs down, make sure you don't overdo the project.

"Most remodeling projects, you need to be willing to stay in the house for a few years," said Hicks. "Kitchens, bathrooms tend to be a lot of times your best return. But if you try and plan to turn around and sell it within a year ... probably aren't going to get a dollar-for-dollar return for your investment."

Once it's time to find a contractor, do your homework on the team you wish to hire.

"The last thing you want is to be mid-project and have a business go out of business on you," said Hicks.

Some other helpful tips to finding the right contractor are:

  • Avoid door-to-door solicitors
  • Verify the contractor is licensed and insured
  • Ask for several references
  • Get a contract with all of the work spelled out


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