Ask Sally

Ask Sally

Dear Sally,

I’m a single woman living in a small historic home and it’s high time to renovate my
 no-longer-charmingly-vintage bathroom. But I’m worried about hiring contractors. 
My house is small enough that I will have to move out for much of the renovation and 
provide the contractors a key. I’ve never hired contractors for a renovation job. How 
can I determine whether they are trustworthy? What steps should I take to insure that my
 property is safe? Am I being overly anxious?
Cautious in Carrboro

Dear Cautious in Carrboro,

A major household renovation is always nerve-wracking. I don’t care how large your house is or how many times you’ve redone it. Having a contractor that you trust, with whom you feel completely comfortable discussing every detail of the job, is key to both the success of your project and your mental health.

Here’s how I’d go about it . . .

• Use a source you know in real life to find a contractor. Internet reviews are fine and dandy for beach books and bakeries, but less reliable when you’re trying to find someone to let into your home for the next few weeks or months. Ask people you know. If a friend or a neighbor has recently completed a successful renovation, start there.

• Give yourself some options. It’s possible you will fall in love at first estimate, but don’t be afraid to shop around. Your contractors will provide references. Those references will likely give a good review, so ask hard questions. A good place to start might be: “If you were to hire _____ again, what would you do differently?” or “Is there anything you wish you’d known about ____at the outset of the project?” As a project manager, I would expect any client of mine to ask that question of my references.

• Trust your instincts. Do not use a contractor you don’t feel comfortable around. It doesn’t matter how highly regarded they are, or even if you mother recommended them. You have a bad feeling? You feel insecure? Find another contractor. My metric for this is very simple: if you don’t feel comfortable giving your contractor a key to your house, or having him or her in your home without you, it’s probably not the right contractor.

• Know your limits. If you don’t feel comfortable with the thought of a contractor or a construction scenario in your home, you need to evaluate whether you need to do renovations at all. It might not be the right time for a variety of reasons.

Hang on, stay strong, and keep focused on just how amazing that bubble bath is going to feel in your brand new bathroom.

Happy to help,

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