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Be careful when hiring contractors


As the autumn leaves fill up your gutters, you might be thinking of hiring someone to help you with outdoor work. In the fall, people have need of a variety of outdoor trade services ranging from leaf cleanup and tree trimming to gutter and roofing repairs.

At this time of year, it’s common to receive ads in the mail or door-to-door solicitations for these kinds of services. But, before you hire any contractor for your outdoor work, be sure to do your homework.

First, make a list of everything that needs to be done and prioritize. One major mistake consumers make is trying to do it all at once. You’re more likely to get an accurate estimate from a contractor if you give them as complete a picture of your needs as possible. Do you just need the tree trimmed or should it come down? Does the stump need to be removed or can you make it into a planter?

Once you have an idea of everything that needs to be done, lay out a timeline so you can tackle the most important, or least expensive, things first, whatever your situation. Be as detailed as you can with your initial list so that you can narrow things as you prioritize. Once you figure out which things you’d like to tackle first, it’s time to start looking for a service provider.

Begin by asking for a referral from someone you trust. As both a business and consumer, the best experiences I’ve had working with any kind of professional service is when it comes from a direct referral. Of course, the best place to start is with friends or family. Asking family, neighbors, friends and co-workers is probably the best way to begin the search for a service provider. Find out as much as you can about the services they bought, what the company was like to work with, costs, and anything else you think might be relevant to your situation.

Ask for at least 3 references. Once you’ve decided on a company that’s been referred to you, or if you’re just shopping around, ask for at least three references from the business based on similar work. References should be from customers who are not related to the business principals nor who are paid or reimbursed for their testimonials. Get names and phone numbers and call them yourself.

Ask for proof of insurance. Companies who do contract type trade work carry specific coverage against damage or injury that might occur as a result of their presence on your property or by the work performed. They may also carry a surety bond, in addition to insurance, which is often required by state and local governments to protect residents from financial loss.

Avoid hiring kids. I know, it sounds kind of opposite to the whole entrepreneurial spirit not to help a teenager with a startup business. But consider this, someone under 18 years of age wouldn’t have business insurance and, if he or she were to be injured while on your property, you would most likely be liable for damages. Yes, you have homeowner’s insurance, but do you know if you’re covered in the event there is an accident?

It’s always a good idea to verify with your insurance agent that your homeowner’s policy carries the right kind of liability protection for these situations. Don’t make assumptions, check it out and be certain before something goes wrong.

Take the time to check it all out before you agree to a contract with someone. And be careful of anyone who won’t put estimates and other information in writing. There can always be unforeseen situations, but do your best to make sure you and your family are protected as much as possible.

Finally, get at least three estimates on whatever kind of work you’re having done. Unless you know the individual personally and know you want to work with them out of hand, invite other resources to quote the job.

And remember, reviewing all of this information is not as much about cost as capabilities. Review all aspects of the offers. A little preparation and due diligence will save you headaches and money.

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By Gery L. Deer

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. More consumer business content at www.gerydeer.com.