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Finding astar serviceprovider takes lots of work, but it's worth it. You'reinviting strangers bearing large power tools and big per- sonalities into yourhome, and your life. Starting theprocess with good communication is vital for a happy and successful outcome. You need to know as much about a serviceprovider's capabilities as they need to know about your expectations.Before contacting any service providers, first takestock ofyour project objectives, financial expectations and any exogenous limitations (co-op board work rules, landmark restrictions). You'll soon find yourself caught in the classic tug-of-warbetween quality, budget and schedule. Therefore, it is imperative to set priorities, and seek a service provider who will fully under- stand yourpoint of view.
Word-of-mouth referrals arethe most tried and true routeto find- ing areputable service provider (and what makes The Franklin Report consumer reviews so valu- able). Past clients should bea f i r m 's strongest promoters. Make a short list (based on TheFranklin Report and other recommenda- tions) limited to those companies with the experience, creative sen- sibility and resources to execute your caliber project. You don't want to be stuck below the atten- tion radar of a high flying archi- tect, jump on board with a con- tractor who can't get off the ground, or dogfight your interior designer over clashing taste.

However, finding a home service soul mate goes well beyond the question of qualifica- tions. Interviews allow you to determine if candidates are not only the right match for the job, but for you. While this may not apply to one-shot service calls, personality and chemistry is criti- cal for more involved projects that require design decisions and complicated ongoing dialogues. Don't settle for anything less than a principal who expresses high interest in your project. The tone is set from the top. But you should also know who will be responsible for your job day-in and day-out. Potential candidates should be receptive to your ideas, offer creative concepts of their own, be flexible, and yet be uncompromising in their stan- dards of quality. Check out their work and, of course, chat with their clients.
Clients know be st. Wer e the contract doc umentsclearand meticulous?Did they hold week- ly meetingswith the project team?Did they keep clie nts informed and in theloop?How did they respond to theinevitable pitfalls? Did they follow-up on thedr eadedpunchlist? We r e they c onscientious about a c l i e n t 's time, family, homeand neighbors?These que stions should qualify theservice p r o v i d e r 's ability to makebudget and timeline. Lastly, afterallthe dust (and questions) have settled, nothing is morete lling than knowing ifthese past clients would hirethis professional a gain .

To make an informed decision, especially on larger projects, solicit three to five bids. Cost is dependent upon the quality of materials, the method of construc- tion, the receiving environment, and the skill of the craftsman. Premium materials, sophisticated design, urban or renovation work, and prominent, popularservice providers will unquestionably translate into a biggerbudget. Remember, though, a cost esti- mate is only as good as the infor- mation that supports it. Make sure various bids are compared on an "apples to apples" basis. Account for and document everything! If it's not spelled out in the contract, you'll become very familiar with the spelling of two words: change order.
In the end, be flexible.
Hooking up with the right service provider will only get you so far. Only patience and a sense of humor can get you home.

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