There’s something wrong with your house, and you have no idea what.
You probably even know it doesn’t look like the rest of the houses in your neighborhood, but you don’t know what it is. It could be a leaky roof or a mold problem in the basement; it could be a window that needs to be replaced or an electrical issue. (Remember: It’s always an electrical issue.)
There are two ways to find out what’s wrong with your house: to fix the problem yourself, or to hire someone who can fix the problem for you. You might do it yourself if it really is minor; if it’s not quite that simple, you’ll need to call in a pro.
Do you know what you should be asking the pros? Read on. It could save you a lot of money and heartache.
- Who Are You?
Your plumber, electrician, contractor or home inspector can’t just tell you everything’s fine–or give some vague answers about how to fix your house. They need to come to you with the right credentials. This isn’t something you can look up on the Internet, but you do need to ask:
What’s your license number? Make sure it’s current, and ask for a copy of the license.
Do you have insurance?
Do you belong to a professional organization or trade group, or do you get your information from them? (A pro can’t call himself a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors unless he’s got their insignia.) Don’t take a pro’s word for it–Google it.
- What Can You Really Do?
The best plumber in the world can’t fix electrical problems, and vice versa. It’s not that they’re not smart or skilled–it’s just that their specialty stops where the other guy’s starts. So before you say yes to a basic problem, know what you’ll be paying for.
A plumber can fix a leak in the toilet and replace your main water shutoff valve. He can’t fix your dryer vent or move your furnace back into its original location. He can’t fix your leaky roof, either.
An electrician can install a light fixture, but he can’t put in a new outlet or upgrade your GFCI outlets. He can’t fix your electrical box or upgrade your wiring.
- Is Your Budget on the Line?
You need to know exactly what you’re getting. This is a professional job–and a very expensive one. You don’t want to be stuck with something that’s not right–either because of incompetence or because it was put together in haste.
What’s crucial: Ask for references. Ask for proof of insurance. Consider the length of time the pro has been in business, as well as whether he has any complaints against him with the Better Business Bureau or other professional organization. In remodeling, know how many days the contractor is on-site, and how much time it will take to complete the job.
Remember: The more expensive the job, the greater the risk of a mistake.
- Who’s Listing Your House?
The listing agent on your house will have a good idea what’s wrong with it. If he’s not sure, you need to ask him for an inspection. He might be able to find out what you don’t know–or at least point you in the right direction.
If that’s not possible, you need to take some time to investigate. Ask for the seller’s list of references or have the real estate agent look it up on her computer. Or call and ask for it from the seller. That way, you’ll know exactly what’s wrong with your house when you go to talk to your pro.
- Why Are You Selling?
This is one of the most important things for you to know. The seller might have absolutely nothing wrong with his house except that he’s had it on the market for three years and he’s tired of looking at it. Or your house could be so worn out that there’s only one buyer in the world who wants to buy it–and he’s been on vacation for a couple of weeks.
This goes back to the first tip: Know what you’re looking at, and what you’re paying for.
- What’s Your Time Frame?
Your plumber might know immediately that your house has a major problem with the water heater, but he can’t sell you on that until he knows whether it’s urgent–and whether you have time in your schedule to take care of it.
So take the time to ask, and know that when you do, you’re getting a professional opinion based on experience.
- What’s Your Plan?
When it comes to any home repair or remodeling project, you need to know exactly what the pro will be doing, who will be involved and how much it will cost. You need to see a detailed list of everything he needs and a breakdown of his fee schedule. And make sure that he’s got the proper insurance. (Don’t let him tell you otherwise. Ask for proof.)
Your Contractor Needs to Know the Answer to This Question, Too
Pete Misthos of Linden, New Jersey, asked his contractor what he would use if it turned out that he couldn’t put in the complete kitchen remodel that he had proposed–a question that should have been part of the original estimate.
When Pete wanted to know how much it would cost, his answer was unexpected: $11,000. This translated into a new price tag–and a few calls from angry contractors.
- Is This In Good Faith?
You might be hiring someone who isn’t a professional–but he might still be honest. But you need to find out the truth.
- How Much Will You Pay?
Find out what the pro is charging for parts and materials, as well as any charges that might be required by the local building code. Remember, you’re paying for expertise, quality work and a reliable warranty. If you don’t have that, you’re asking for trouble.
- When Can You Expect Your Job Done?
Take your time to find out how long it will take to get the job done–and how it fits into your schedule and life. It may take longer than you think–and if it’s your only bathroom, it could be years. On the other hand, it might be done in a week or two. (And the reason you want to know is that this is a major part of its value.)
If you’re in a hurry, then your plumber might need to come on Saturdays and Sundays–and that’s going to cost extra money.
- When Will You Get Paid?
Your contractor needs to know when he will get paid, too. It’s not a good idea to make the last payment until you’ve inspected the work and are satisfied with it. That way, if there’s something wrong, you won’t be paying him twice.