Finding a Contractor
One of the most important and time-consuming parts of any project is finding the pros who will help you create and complete the job. Many trade groups, like those of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, National Association of Home Builders, the National Kitchen & Bath Association and the American Institute of Architects, have websites where you'll find the names, addresses and credentials of members in your area. They also provide links to homepages these pros have created for themselves. ImproveNet takes its matchmaking service a step further by screening contractors and architects for legal and credit problems, licensing and insurance information. The site also provides links to homepages of recommended pros. According to a study by the Home Improvement Research Institute, 9 percent of homeowners who hired remodeling pros in 1999 used the Internet to find them. A website can give you an idea of the projects the firm has handled, but it can't tell you how smoothly the jobs went. In addition, many if not most design and remodeling pros aren't yet online. Finding them often requires word-of-mouth references from friends and neighbors. So, though the Web can help you find more professionals more quickly, it cannot and should not substitute for actually meeting and interviewing them and checking their references. "A good website means the professional is good at e-technology, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's good at the craft you're hiring him for," says Mark Richardson, president of Case Design/Remodel, a Bethesda, Maryland, remodeling firm with its own nifty website. "Homeowners run a risk if they get ahead of what the Internet can do." The web also can't convey communication skills. You can only find that out by actually meeting and interviewing people. If you don't have a good rapport with your architect, designer or contractor, you'll be working under a serious handicap. You should never hire someone you don't like or can't talk to, no matter how wonderful an architect, electrician or designer is—or how great that pro's website looks. Once you have found a pro, the Web can help speed communications. If your architect, designer or contractor has a digital camera, he can take photos of the project area and incorporate them into plans. These plans and any questions can be e-mailed to you and other family members. You can look at them at your convenience, and e-mail comments and questions back to the pro so he can incorporate them. Fewer hard-to-schedule meetings and less phone tag are the result. Vischio-Tebeau's contractor used copies of her e-plans to obtain local permits. However, e-mail should only complement, not substitute for, the real-time give and take of meetings, especially when plans and contracts are being finalized. Contractor Sylvain Cote, of Absolute Remodeling in Yorktown Heights, New York, blends the two. "Initially, I direct people to my Website to fill out a questionnaire about their project. But I do preliminary plans and estimates in person. From then on, depending on the client, it's a mixture of online communications and face-to-face meetings."
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