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1. The contract itself. A contract protects the parties involved. Just because you had a great conversation during the first meeting at the house, and even though the work is only supposed to take two days, you'll regret not having a contract when one of you forgets half of that great conversation and the work isn't completed after two weeks.
2. A physical address. Should you need to track down your contractor after work has begun, you won't find him or her at a P.O. box. Ask to drop off the deposit at the physical location listed on the contract.
3. License. While in some cities getting a contractor's license may be more a matter of writing a check than verifying skill, check to see that your contractor lists a license required for the work being done. A license may mean that your contractor passed the required exams, or it may just mean the state knows where to find him to collect taxes. But it also means your contractor has done the paperwork and is playing by the rules.
4. Insurance. Injuries can occur on a construction site. If the location is your home and your contractor does not have the proper insurance, you may be held liable. Check with your locality for the proper amount of liability insurance, and if the contractor has employees, check to see whether he carries worker's compensation insurance.
8. EPA lead safety certification. Contractors working on homes in the U.S. built before 1978 should be certified in lead-safe practices by the EPA. You can read more about the requirements here, but in a nutshell, it's all about minimizing and containing dust during work, which is vital for the safety of you and your family.
9. Payment schedule. While payment schedules can vary by the job, they should always be agreeable to both parties involved. In my opinion, payments tied to milestones in the project are better than those tied to percentages of completion. As long as you are confident that you're not paying for significantly more than what's been completed, you should be OK.
10. Warranty. The standard warranty for work is one year from substantial completion. If you've checked the contractor's physical address and gotten recommendations from people you trust, you'll know where to find him later if needed.
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