Finding (and holding onto) the Best Pros

Kitchen remodeling is at the top of homeowners' wish lists. It is also, according to attorneys general across the country, a leading source of consumer complaints. Recommendations from friends are the best place to start your search for a qualified contractor. But before you make a decision, keep these caveats in mind.

Three Truths About Contractors
1. They're only as good as their last job. "General contractors often win jobs based on their good reputations," explains architect Dennis Wedlick, author of Good House Hunting: 20 Steps to Your Dream Home. "But circumstances can change. When the contractor switches subcontractors or laborers, quality can be affected." Ask your top three candidates to supply references, and follow up with the most recent ones.
2. What you see is what you get. In addition to completed renovations, try to visit a job in progress. You can learn a lot about a contractor's commitment to quality and safety by seeing for yourself how clean the site is and how carefully the drywall is hung and taped.
3. The best ones are worth waiting for. The best contractors tend to be the busiest ones. Build your schedule around the GC of your dreams, not vice versa.

Four Essentials to Ask References
1. What were the contractor's work habits? Did he show up on time and prepared to supervise the subs?
2. Did he stick to the scope of the work and cleanup plan as outlined in the contract? Were any unauthorized changes of materials or details made?
3. Did your project stay on or close to budget? Did materials arrive on time? Did he keep you up to date on his progress or potential delays?
4. Did anything go wrong? And if so, how — and how quickly — was the crisis resolved?


Three R's of Keeping the Crew Happy
1. Refreshments: You don't have to cater three squares a day, but at least offer a thermos of coffee or a cooler with soft drinks. They'll appreciate it.
2. Responsibility: The crew can't work efficiently if you're in the way. Ask questions, but don't overwhelm them with your TOH-taught smarts. And teach kids and pets the meaning of KEEP OUT.
3. Respect: Say good morning, good night, and good job when appropriate. And, please: Don't ask if they've met any desperate housewives lately. The appliances can be top-of-the-line, the finishes the most expensive around, but if the space doesn't work, it's money down the brand-new In-Sink-Erator. Here are 10 ways to arrive at the best design for you, even if—like the vast majority of Americans—you rarely cook a meal from scratch.

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