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Working with a contractor

If your home needs to be improved, remodeled, or repaired, how and where do you find a responsible contractor to do the job?

The National Home Improvement Council warns, ''If the contractor who remodels your home is not qualified, you pay for his mistakes and suffer the disappointment of work poorly done or left undone.'' Also, if you pay him in full before the completion of the work, you have no leverage and must depend on his good will to complete the job or make it good.

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To get your full dollar's worth, the council advises, employ a contractor with an established place of business, preferably in your locality.

Be sure he has adequate financial references. Get references from him of satisfied customers for whom he has done work in the area. Check with them personally by phone or go to see the contractor's work. Also check him out with your local Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce to determine if any complaints have been lodged against him.

Observe carefully how precisely he ''sizes up'' your proposed project. Take note of his suggestions and discuss them thoroughly with him, refusing to be rushed or to make snap judgments.

Be sure, on major projects, to have written agreements on plans and specifications -- and have a thorough understanding about the quality of materials and workmanship required.

A reputable home improvement contractor, says the council, prepares a comprehensive set of material and labor specifications and carefully estimates costs. He prepares whatever sketches or plans are necessary to define the scope of the project, and he offers a detailed proposal, at a package price, covering every aspect of the job -- from removal of existing materials to thorough cleanup after the job has been completed.

Such a contractor, declares the Council, can recommend the best materials for the job and will service the warranties offered by the suppliers of the materials and products he installs. He will guarantee his workmanship. And he will also provide certification of insurance covering workmen's compensation, property damage, and personal liability.

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