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How Do You Choose The Right Decking Contractor?

In a way, contractors certainly are a lot like lawyers.

How many lawyer jokes do you know? Lots, probably. (Well known: "What can you call fifty lawyers in the bottom of the ocean? A good start.") Lawyers are probably the most maligned groups of professionals on the market, although it's much more likely that almost all attorneys are courteous, professional, and ethical within their dealings. When was the last time you actually met a truly evil lawyer?

Contractors suffer exactly the same fate. Most contractors are good at what they do, charge a good price and get the work done reasonably quickly. But we all know the typical stereotype: Slovenly, unwashed men desperately looking for a better way to keep their pants from drooping too low in the back, who show up late and leave without nailing so much as a single board. It's hard out there for a contractor. It's even harder for contractors who focus on decking, since decks are most homeowners' notion of the final touch on the dream homes.

But while most contractors, like the majority of lawyers, are friendly and fair within their interactions with clients, there are some bad apples out there. It's important for consumers to know how exactly to spot those apples before signing a contract. Below are a few pointers on deciding on the best decking contractor:

Check review sites like Angie's List. deck builders in my area has opened up a universe of information for the discriminating consumer. Angie's List works by region, allowing members to review contractors in all 50 states. When it's time to hire a decking contractor, starting your search at a review site could net you some valuable information. Keep this at heart throughout your search - it could make the difference between putting a decking contractor on the "yes" list or the "maybe" list.

Research the relevant local codes and regulations yourself before starting your search. Decks are just like outbuildings - their construction must abide by a set of codes and standards that differs depending on location. Your brand-new decking project may be tied to zoning laws in proportions, height or nearness to the street. Check these laws before calling around, and make sure your potential decking contractor's knowledge of the situation.

See if he'll provide a free estimate. Some estimates can't be given free of charge. A plumber, for instance, may need to use specialized equipment to find a leak, which can mean a lot of money. But decks aren't like this - it's relatively simple to visualize how a deck will look, what type of work will be involved in its construction, and just how long it will take to create. If a contractor won't do that for free, that could be enough reason not to hire him. Also you can use your experience in getting the estimate to measure the contractor's professionalism: Is he promptly? Does he react to your questions with polite courtesy? Does he use hard-sell or strong-arm tactics to get you to bring him on board? It is now time to weed out potential troublemakers.

Require local references or provide pictures of decks he's built-in the past. In the event that you were hiring a fresh employee in the office, you'd want to see a resume or a portfolio. This should be no different. Ask your contractor: What's he done before? Does he have any letters of support or recommendation from his past customers? (His website may be good spot to find these.) If his experience in decking projects is limited, is he willing to lower his price?

Find out if he's insured. This can be the most crucial question you ask. Is your decking contractor's company insured against claims covering worker's compensation or property damage? What about personal liability in case of accidents? Get the name of his carrier and agency, and create a call to be sure.

In case you have kids or pets, make sure to have them around through the estimate. They're sure to be around whenever your decking contractor is doing the work, so make certain he knows they will be a fixture. Needless to say, you don't want them getting in his way - someone could easily get hurt, and it's important for you to be a courteous client. But if he responds negatively, that may be a sign of potential conflict down the road.
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