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The fastest way to crush the anticipation and excitement over a new homeowner’s first significant improvement project is by hiring a bad contractor. With home improvement season in full swing, many reputable contractors have already lined up jobs weeks and even months in advance. This increases the chances of attracting potential contractors who are still looking for work—and, sadly, too many are ready and willing to take your money with no guarantee you’ll ever see the results you hoped for when you paid whatever upfront costs your contractor required to book the job.

There’s loads of advice to help homeowners to avoid the likelihood of getting scammed or ripped off—and information of any recourse you might have by visiting the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website.

Before you hire a contractor, the FTC recommends:

Get estimates. Get written estimates from several firms, and don’t automatically choose the lowest bidder. Ask for explanations about any measurable differences in cost. Then ask, “How many projects like mine have you completed in the last year?” and request a list so to see how familiar the contractor is with your type of project.

What about a permit? Most states and localities require permits for building projects, even for simple jobs like decks. A competent contractor will get all the necessary permits before starting work, and you may want to choose a contractor familiar with the permitting process in your area.

Require references. Request names, addresses and phone numbers of at least three clients with projects like yours. Ask each client how long ago the project was and whether it was completed on time. You could also inquire about visiting jobs in progress.

Ask about insurance. Contractors should have personal liability, worker’s compensation and property damage coverage, so ask for copies of insurance certificates, and make sure they’re current, or you could be held liable for any injuries and damages that occur during the project.

How about subs? If subcontractors will be used, they must have current insurance coverage and licenses, too, if required.

To find builders, remodelers and related providers in your area that are members of the National Association of Home Builders, you can also visit www.nahb.org.

John Voket is a contributing editor to RISMedia.

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