Before You Hire a Basement Pro

Choosing a contractor is one of the most difficult decisions. Here's what you should ask.

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Photo courtesy of Design Your Basement

Finishing your basement is an important and expensive project, and you want it done right. How do you know that the contractor you hire is up to the task? Asking your contractor these questions before you hire will eliminate a lot of headache.

How long have you been in business?

"You don't want to be somebody's first time," says Steve Iverson, owner of Finished Basements Plus. There's no right answer to this question, but five years is a good indicator the person has the necessary experience.

Is your company a full-service or a specialty basement firm?

Companies that specialize in basements are more likely to have a broad command of the options available.

Are you licensed?

"Unlicensed contractors can leave homeowners in a bad spot if something goes wrong," Steve says. If you can't complain to your state's licensing board, seeking damages in civil court may be your only recourse.

Are you insured, and for how much?

"A lot of things can go wrong when you're running saws and nail guns," Steve says. Your contractor should be insured for at least the value of your home against the possibility of someone being injured.

How many employees do you have?

It's helpful to know whether the whole job will be handled in-house or parceled out to subcontractors. Subcontractors aren't necessarily a bad thing, but they can make it more difficult to control the quality of work.

Can I visit some of your past or current job sites?

It can be helpful to see results in person and speak to other customers about their experience with the builder.

When will you start and finish?

Steve stresses that this should be a framework, not dates carved in stone. Basement projects take time. "If you force a contractor into a window of time and then he makes a miscalculation, you force him to do something faster than it should be done," he says. "What you want is a specified time frame and regular activity occurring during that time frame."

Will you be pulling the permits?

Every basement project requires a permit. If you don't get one, you leave yourself at risk. The contractor should be willing to do this for you.

Do you have products specially designed for basements?

Because a basement is more prone to moisture problems than the ground level of your home, your contractor should have a working knowledge of building products made especially to minimize mold and moisture.

Will I receive a detailed drawing, scope of work and guaranteed price?

You should get a written plan with the company logo on it. "It doesn't have to be a CAD drawing, but it shouldn't be written on the back of a napkin, either," Steve says.

How will I make my selections?

Some contractors will have you pick products at the local big box store. Other professionals have a designer on staff to help you map the space and select finishes.

Why is your price different from the other quotes I got?

Your contractor should spell out explicitly what is and isn't included in the quote so that you have a complete understanding of the project.

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