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The Home Improvement Hunt Made Easy

A primer on choosing the right contractor.

If you’re interested in improving your home and aren’t sure where to start or who to trust, you’re not alone. Whether it’s a leaky roof or a new kitchen, there can be a lot of time and money at stake. How do you choose a qualified contractor who will do your job right?

To sort it all out, we turned to an expert, Dave MacLean at Brothers Services Company, for advice about how to make the hiring decision.

For starters, what are some of the most important questions a homeowner needs to ask before signing a contract?

The first thing you can do to protect yourself when hiring a contractor is to choose a company that has a license from the Maryland Home Improvement Commission (MHIC). In Maryland, it is illegal to sell or provide home improvements without a license.

You can check the status of the contractor’s license on the MHIC website, to make sure that both their name and the company name match.

Selling services over $500 is a felony. Licensure ensures that companies meet basic qualifications, which includes maintaining a minimum threshold of financial solvency, knowing applicable industry standards, and contributing to a guaranty fund that can compensate you if something goes wrong.

You can check the status of the contractor’s license on the MHIC website, to make sure that both their name and the company name match. Lots of people “borrow” licenses, and that’s not valid.

Some other important things to ask:

Will the contractor obtain the permits and arrange for the required inspections for this project? If the answer is anything other than “Yes!” you should be wary. Don’t agree to obtain any needed permits by yourself. Permits cost a little more and can slow down a project slightly, but it’s worth having an expert ensure that the contractor’s work is correct.

Can the contractor provide a copy of his business insurance?

Any professional contractor should provide you with a copy of a general liability policy in excess of one million dollars. You should call their insurance broker and make sure that a) the policy is valid, and b) that the policy covers the work you want to have done. Contractors will often buy insurance to get the certificate, and then let the policy lapse. It’s not uncommon for contractors to be inadequately insured.

What warranty is offered on workmanship?

Good contractors should be able to provide a detailed scope of work that explains exactly what will be done, what materials will be used, and what kinds of warranties are included. This document is essential to protect you against mistakes, incomplete projects, and poor workmanship. Some words scratched on a piece of paper or a handshake agreement just aren’t good enough.

Once you’ve built a shortlist of qualified contractors, what are the best sources to check out a company, such as BBB rating, customers’ testimonials, etc. And should you trust online review sources like Yelp?

All online reviews need to be taken with a big grain of salt. Many companies hire people to write positive reviews about their company and write negative reviews about their competitors. No social media platform is immune, and the ones that try to prevent bogus reviews often end up filtering out legitimate reviews.

Honestly, the best way to qualify a company is to have them come to your home for a face-to-face meeting. Do they use hard-selling negotiating tactics like dropping the price every time you have an objection? Do they conduct a thorough inspection of your home and document their findings? Do they listen to your concerns and provide you with a detailed proposal that covers all the important items such as pricing, warranties, timeline, etc? There’s no substitute for looking someone in the eye when they ask you to trust them with your home.

Can you tell us about Brothers Services’ history?

Over 30 years ago, we set out to create a different kind of home-improvement company. High-pressure sales tactics and pricing schemes had led to contractors developing a poor reputation for business ethics. We knew there was a better way.

Since many home improvement projects are only done once in a decade, there was little incentive for contractors to deliver quality customer service. Through word-of-mouth and referrals, Brothers Services grew from a small roofing contractor into a full-service remodeler, with teams of master tradespeople who specialize in serving every part of your home. From the roof to the basement and everything in between, we have the expertise to provide a full-home solution. We strive to make Maryland homeowners our Customer for Life by treating them like family and treating their property as if it were our own. We’re proud to have been invited into over 10,000 Maryland homes last year and look forward to growing that number this year.