Avoid problems with home-improvement contractors

What consumers need to do to protect themselves

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Do you plan on doing any work in your house? Will you be using a contractor? If so, whether this is a small job or a major renovation, there are a number of steps you must take to protect yourself. First, the contractor must be licensed in the jurisdiction where your property is located. When you have selected the contractor, insist on getting a copy of his or her license. Call the government agency that issued the license to confirm that it is still current. Next, contact your homeowners insurance company to determine the extent of your coverage should accidents or damage occur while the work is being done. Negotiate all terms and conditions -- including the cost of the job -- with the contractor. When you have reached agreement, it must be reduced to a written contract. Many contractors use what I call the "two-page special." This is a simple contract that merely states who the contractor is, a very general description of the work to be done, and the total cost of the job. Such a doc...