Many people have a need to have work done in their home. It may be plumbing, renovating a kitchen or bathroom, electrical or painting, yet they procrastinate because they do not know whom to call. In an emergency situation (like a plumbing problem), it is very difficult to do the necessary homework to find a competent contractor. However, before undertaking any project that will require several days or weeks of work, it is crucial to do some investigations. So here are some tips on how to choose a professional contractor: Talk to your friends and neighbors about people they have used. It is always best to hear about someone else's experiences. Ask all sorts of questions. Did they get a written estimate? Did the contractor keep to the estimate in both cost and time? If they had any problems, did the contractor come back promptly to repair the problem? With a list of your friends' references you can start making calls to schedule the contractors to come out to your home to discuss your project. Take note of the small details, as that can often give you a picture of how the job will work out. Did they answer your call when you called to schedule an appointment? Did they promptly return messages? Did they show up for the appointment on time? Did they provide you with a written estimate in a timely fashion? Each one of these details may seem insignificant; however, they all play an important role in how the contractor works and how he will treat you during and after the job is completed. Sometimes people are so anxious to begin their project that they overlook some of the obvious warning signs and tend to regret it later. A written estimate is very important. It should contain all sorts of information, for example, what materials are going to be used. It must also contain the price (indicating if it includes VAT of 15.5%) and a time estimate. A payment plan should also be included. Depending on the size of the project, it is expected to pay some upfront, some during milestones of the project and the balance upon completion. Never hire a contractor without asking for references (old and new) and calling them to inquire about him. Remember, you are doing this to avoid problems down the road. Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous contractors out there. Getting involved with people like this can be avoided if we get references from our friends and check with the references provided by the contractor. Do not think just because the contractor has provided the reference, it is not worth checking into, as they will just provide a great report. In fact, the feedback from all customers is worthwhile for you to hear before making your decision. In general, it is best to beware of contractors that can only be contacted by cellphones and answering services. It is best to do business with someone that is established and can provide an address where he can be reached should you need to contact him again if you have problems with the work. Ask the contractor if he is on site at all times. If not, ask about the employees and the person left in charge. You need to be comfortable with the employees as they will be in your home for the duration of the work. Also check that they come self-supplied and do not need to bother you for your supplies or tools. A contractor should not be using your drills, ladders or even your garbage bags and brooms. Even food and drinks are not something the contractor should bother you with. Ask the contractor about these details prior to agreeing to hire him so you at least know what you are getting yourself involved with. Finally, the lowest bid is not always the best. There is a lot of truth in the statement "you get what you pay for." Choose someone who comes highly recommended and instills confidence in his ability to do the job. Question via e-mail: I read your article on water damage. I have a Jacuzzi in my master bathroom and the grout is missing between the tiles. On the other side of the wall in my master bedroom the wall is totally peeling and I see mold. What would be the best way to repair the problem on my own? You must first grout between the tiles. You could buy ready-made grout, or purchase the powder that needs to be mixed with water. Follow the instructions and waiting time before using the shower/Jacuzzi. Also, you should check the silicone between the tiles and the Jacuzzi. The damaged wall should be scraped, removing anything loose. Since you see signs of mold, wash the area with a equal mix of bleach and water. The wall then needs to be spackled (may take two or three coats). After that dries, you sand to smooth out the wall that was repaired. Finally, paint with an anti-mold paint to prevent the mold from reappearing. It is critical to follow the instructions of the products you purchase and wait the required drying time between each process. Readers' tips, questions and comments are always welcome. The authors can be reached at (02) 585-9559 and at email@example.com.