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How to Hire a Kitchen Contractor

A little legwork is required to find the best contractor for your kitchen remodel. Here's what you should do before making the hire.

Finding the right contractor for a kitchen remodel might seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. A few simple steps can mean the difference between complete confidence in a contractor and doubts that cause sleepless nights.

ASK FOR REFERRALS
Hands down, word of mouth is the best way to find a qualified professional to tackle the job. Ask relatives, friends and neighbors who 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 via a phone call or a visit to the remodeler's website. Find out whether the contractor 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). Any remodeling professional worth his or her salt will have invested in the 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, owner of Sara Busby Designs in Elk Rapids, Mich.

INTERVIEW CANDIDATES
Narrow down the list of contenders, and set up meetings. Is there a magic number of contractors you should interview?

"Ultimately, the right number could be one," says Al Pattison, president of NKBA; he recommends talking with no more than three. "With too many quotes, it gets too confusing trying to make a decision."

A list of questions to ask potential contractors can be found on NARI's 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," Busby 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," Pattison says.

CHECK REFERENCES
Once a rapport has been established, ask to see some of the contractor's projects. If they meet with approval, request references and then call to verify them.

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 for you. Do they look professional? Scrutinize the contract. Does it seem fair and balanced? Make sure that the written agreement includes 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 and 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, go ahead sign on the dotted line with confidence.

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