If you’re starting a home improvement project, then that means you’ll need a contractor. The first thing that you should think about, before deciding what you want your contractor to do, is how you can develop a good relationship with a home improvement contractor.

Let’s start by talking about some of the resources at your disposal. In Boston, there is no shortage of places to turn for help. Start by giving the Homeowner’s Project Handbook, by the Boston Society of Architects, a look. When you are ready to start searching for contractors, here is a search tool that you can use.

These two resources will get you started, but when it comes to forming a relationship, there is a lot to know. Read on, and learn about the three most common types of contractor-homeowner relationships.

General Contractors

When you hire a general contractor, you are hiring a professional to take full control (with your input, of course) over the project. General contractors handle every detail, from hiring specialized subcontractors like electricians and plumbers, to doing the purchasing and work scheduling. Instead of focusing on one part of the job, a general contractor handles the job as a whole.

Homeowner as the Home Improvement Contractor

This relationship is exactly like hiring a general contractor, except you take the role of the general contractor. You’ll work directly with a fleet of specialists, like drywallers or plumbers, and you’ll be responsible for calling in any required inspectors, getting permits, purchasing some supplies, scheduling the work, and so forth.

If you are experienced at home improvement, then this may be the way to go for you, since you can save some money on the costs you would have spent on a general contractor. However, if you don’t have much experience, then you may just want to leave the project up to a general contractor, who has the experience and knowledge needed to streamline your project.

The Design-Build Arrangement

This is one of the more common builder-homeowner relationships. With a design-build relationship, you still hire a general contractor to coordinate the home improvement process. However, you will have a lot more input in the project.

For instance, instead of letting the general contractor choose details like moldings or locations for doors or windows, you’ll be the one to make those decisions under the guidance of your general contractor. You and the contractor will go over the entire project, hash out each detail (the design process) and then you’ll sign a contract so that the general contractor can get to work.

Tips for Forming a Good Relationship with a Home Improvement Contractor

The number one tip for hiring a contractor is to start developing the relationship before you start the job. That is, call several contractors to get quotes so that you can meet them in person. Make sure to ask lots of questions and choose the contractor that you feel you will be able to work with most effectively. Don’t simply rely on online reviews or the phone book to help you choose a home improvement contractor!

Here are some other tips:

  • Call your local consumer affairs agency to check for complaint histories on the contractors that you are considering.
  • When permits are needed, make sure your contractor does the legwork. If you apply for a permit, and there is a dispute between you and the contractor, you won’t be eligible to receive compensation from the Guaranty Fund of Massachusetts.
  • Never, ever begin a project without signing a detailed contract provided by your contractor first.
  • Have a firm budget in mind before you begin so that your contractor knows what to expect.

Home improvement projects, particularly those large enough to involve home improvement contractors, can seem intimidating at first. As you meet with professionals, trust your instincts — and use the information here — to make the right choice!