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Sooner or later, every home needs the caring hands of a contractor.

Home improvement to-do lists can grow quickly once you’ve settled into a home, and the expenses can add up just as fast, making it critical that you don’t throw your money away in the process. No matter the size of the project at hand, finding a good contractor is paramount to achieving success when tackling home improvement projects.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you search for the best contractor for the job:

Determine the Size and Scope of the Job
While complex projects require in-depth knowledge, there’s also the potential that you’ll need to hire a contractor with state certifications, which is something only a licensed contractor can provide. Complex projects can range anywhere from remodeling a bathroom or kitchen to adding on a new room or building a deck. If a large job requires a permit, a contractor will likely be required by the city issuing the permit.

Small projects such as fixing a leaking pipe or installing a ceiling fan can probably be handled by a good handyman who will usually charge less per hour or project than a licensed contractor.

Where to Start Your Search
Websites such as Angie’s List offer large databases of home improvement contractors who have been reviewed by members, so do your due diligence and take some time to do some research before choosing a contractor for the job. It’s also a good idea to ask for recommendations from friends and neighbors who have had similar work done on their homes, in addition to getting recommendations from your local Chamber of Commerce or building trade association.

Your insurance company will likely have agreements with reputable local contractors, as well, so ask for their recommendations, even if they’re not paying for the work.

Check Licenses
Once you’ve compiled a list of potential contractors, get their license numbers and check that their certificates of insurance are updated. All contractors are required to be licensed and have insurance. Good contractors should carry workers comp and liability insurance, as well.

When checking licenses, remember that a business license isn’t the same as a contractor license. Research your state’s requirements regarding contractors, and make sure the ones you’re considering hiring for the job meet those requirements.

Check References
Ask contractors for at least three recent references you can contact. While you can ask customers anything you’d like, don’t overlook the following questions:

• Did the contractor return your calls promptly?
• Was the project completed on budget?
• Was the contractor responsive to changes with the project?
• Would you recommend this contractor to your family?

Get an Itemized Bid
After meeting with a contractor and having them review your project, they should provide you with an itemized bid that lists everything you’ll be paying for, including labor, materials, permit fees and any other expenses the contractor expects to bill for. It’s also important to clarify whether the bid is an estimate or fixed price. If it’s an estimate, find out what factors might affect the final price.