Wheaton, IL -
Last month, Cheryl Golding decided it was time to bite the bullet.
The paint outside her Downers Grove home was cracking and flaking, so she started contacting companies to get estimates on exterior work.
“We haven’t painted since we bought the house seven years ago, and I was worried it’d look like a decrepit, abandoned warehouse by the end of the summer,” she said. “But this is a first for us, so I had no idea how to find someone reliable. My kind of luck, we’d get someone who slaps a coat on and vanishes before you’re satisfied with the work.”
Like many homeowners, Golding was at a loss for how to proceed. Then a neighbor told her about the Home Depot At-Home Services program, which vets contractors using stringent requirements and connects customers with local crews.
But for those feeling ambitious enough to hire professional painters on their own, some rules of thumb can help homeowners spot red flags and avoid a home-improvement nightmare:
• Note the call-back turnaround time
Whether it’s the initial conversation to set up an estimate appointment or the response time for a clarification, this is a signifier of the company’s dedication to customer service.
“If it’s three days or longer, that’s an automatic disqualification,” said Jeff Hester, vice president of Hester Painting & Decorating, which caters to suburban Chicago homes and offices. “Because if they’re not accessible to you over something simple, they’re definitely not going to deal with problems in a timely fashion.”
• Personally meet the contractor
“You want to meet with one of the guys who will be on the job site daily,” Hester said. “And that way, you’re also talking over the details with someone who will supervise the project, so it’s not the ol’ bait and switch. Be wary of the ones who subcontract out.”
• Ask about preperation and products
“Are they going to wash and sand it? You have to do some scraping to get a good grab with the adhesion,” Hester said. “Never use a contractor who burns off the existing paint. There’s too much room for error with burning the house down, and the fumes are dangerous.”
Also, it’s important to ask how workers plan on protecting landscaping. If bleach is being used during washings, that will kill plants, so preventative waterings and tarps should be part of the process.
For Hester Painting & Design projects, the company prefers higher-grade primer and paints like Benjamin Moore, Pittsburgh Paints and ICI Paints.
“Requesting these is a good idea, because if you get talked into using cheaper products, you’re really shooting yourself in the foot for the future,” Hester said.
Ray Mikolasek, Home Depot manager in Countryside, agreed.
“If they use lower-end paint to save some money, you might not be able to tell now, but with our weather, the finish will look drastically different in three to four years,” he said. “If you’re a complete novice, you aren’t going to know to ask them about sheens and mold resistance, but those are going to be important discussions given the regional climate, where we have severe temperature differences. Don’t settle on a contractor without making sure they’re paying attention to those factors.”
• Check references
After settling on a few front-runners, request addresses and phone numbers of previous customers, including an older job.
“Make sure you talk to the homeowners, rather than just looking at the exterior of that address,” Hester said. “I’ve had other companies claim credit for my work, and if you don’t chat with the homeowners, you’ll never know. Also, ask if the workers showed up on time and how they handled any concerns.”
• Get an itemized estimate and contract
Make sure contractors aren’t doing a drive-by bid, because it won’t be an accurate quote.
“Talk to them about the surface and whether the estimate includes scraping, sanding, primer and two coats,” Mikolasek said. “Then get it in writing in the form of a proposal.”
Also, confirm the start and expected completion date, as well as the crew size. The company must be able to hand over a certificate of insurance upon request. Reputable contractors usually have a minimum of $1 million of general liability coverage plus workers’ compensation, according to Hester. Also, extended warranties that cover only materials are not nearly as valuable as shorter agreement periods that guarantee labor.
GateHouse News Service
Fri Jul 20, 2007, 05:28 PM CDT