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On Time and On Budget

5 Tips for hiring dependable folks for your cabin projects
By Christy Heitger-Ewing
Published: March 26, 2010
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Photo by ©Roman Milert, dreamstime.com
I’m pretty picky when it comes to hiring a sitter for my 5-year-old son. After all, he’s my baby, and I want to be sure he’s in good hands. The same holds true for the other baby of the family: our precious cabin. When the cabin requires some TLC, I want to hire someone who is both skilled and trustworthy. This task can be harder than it sounds because even if I find a contractor who promises to turn out quality craftsmanship at a fair price, that doesn’t mean the project will be completed in a timely manner.
   
Here are five tips to help ensure your projects are completed well, on budget and … that they are completed – period.

1. Create a Contract
In “cabin country,” if the lake trout are running or the hunting is good, a contractor may become … distracted. Now, playful distractions are not always a big deal. If your project involves your roof being torn off in January, however, it stands to reason that you would want to ensure that installing a new roof took precedence over, say, ice fishing.
 
Brian Kelly is the owner of Getouttatownonline.com, a company that rents out lake properties for owners when they are not using them. Kelly is responsible for finding and hiring dependable contractors to do work on properties that require maintenance and repairs before he can rent them out. In Kelly’s experience, he has found that it is best to create a written contract, which outlines that certain phases of the project must be completed by an agreed-upon date, at which time the owner will pay a portion of the payment to the contractor.

“When the agreement states that increments of pay will be given upon completion of specific work, this gives the owner some leverage,” says Kelly.

2. Obtain Bids
Dave Varshock, president of United Country Central Realty in McKinleyville, Calif., hires local tradespeople to work on some of his real estate listings, using a pool of vendors who are often independent contractors. Varshock suggests obtaining a bid for every job. Bids should include a defined start date and a defined completion date, as well as parts, labor and materials.

3. Check for Affiliations
Before choosing someone for the job, Varshock also recommends that cabin owners ask contractors if they belong to any trade organizations. “If you’re hiring a plumber, ask if he’s a member of the plumber’s association,” says Varshock. “Also, find out what sort of certification he carries.”

4. Visit Your Local Permitting Office
In addition, Kelly suggests going to the local courthouse to see which contractors are submitting permits. “Find out where Contractor Z has submitted a permit, then call the people he has worked for and say, ‘I see you hired Contractor Z three years ago to work on your cabin. How did that go?’” says Kelly. “It takes a little research, but it’s worth it to find a good contractor.”

5. Ask Around
Hardware stores, lumber yards, and supply companies are great sources of information. For example, if you’re in need of a plumber, go into a plumbing supply company and ask, “How long has Larry been getting supplies from you?” If the answer is 20 years, then you know Larry probably has a steady stream of business – and that’s a good sign. Marinas will tell you who is best for taking docks in and out. Local landscaping companies will know who can fell a tree without cutting a power line.
 
Owners may want to contact the Chamber of Commerce or the Better Business Bureau for additional suggestions, though referencing a phone book is not advised.
 
“Good contractors don’t need to advertise because they have plenty of work,” says Kelly. “Instead, talk to your cabin neighbors. Word of mouth is the best way to find good help.”

Frequent contributor Christy Heitger-Ewing is thrilled that her two babies (her son and her cabin) get along so splendidly.

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