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Beware of your Contractor


Are you planning for renovations? Whether you’re adding a room, redoing a basement, or just have some much-needed repairs, finding a good contractor is important. You probably don’t need me to tell you that home improvements gone wrong can certainly cost you! A good ad or even a referral from a friend may not be enough to determine a contractor’s quality and credibility… you might just end up hiring someone off this list of very terrible contractors!

Don’t worry though, we’re here to help and there are a lot of resources online so that you can confidently choose a contractor. Take a look at these steps before undergoing your next project:

  1. Do your Research
  • There is a lot of ways you can do your due diligence. Start by double checking with family and friends about how their experience was with their contractor(s).
  • Check trusted sites for ratings and reviews. In general, are people having similar experiences with one contractor? Are they good or bad? If you are consistently seeing negative words pop up and low star ratings, scratch that contractor off your list!
  • Find out how long they’ve been in the business. You want to find an established contractor whose record, experience and reputation you can easily check into.
  • Most importantly, check licensing and qualifications. Make sure their licensing is up to date (check that here), and that they are legally allowed to provide the requested service (check out state rules here).
  1. Before Hiring, Ask Questions
  • Get written estimates when asking about the potential cost of a project. Don’t automatically choose the lowest bid without following the next steps!
  • Ask about how many projects (like yours) they have completed in the past year or two.
  • Ask if your project will require a permit.
  • Ask for a list of references from clients they completed similar projects for…If you feel comfortable making those calls, you should double check and ask how the contractor did.
  • Ask if they carry insurance, and what kind. I.e. personal liability, workers compensation, or property damage coverage. Also, see if you can obtain copies of insurance certificates. If they plan to hire subcontractors, be sure to research them as well and ask for the same certificates! That way, if anything goes wrong you won’t be liable for any injuries or damages
  • Understand you payment options. While it may seem reasonable to just pay in cash, it’s not a great idea unless you are provided a receipt. You also won’t be able to cancel the payment if something comes up. Be very wary of requests for large down payments prior to starting the project.
  1. Get a Written Contract
  • You should always produce a written contract before starting the project. It should be concise and include:
    • the contractor’s name, address, phone, and license number
    • an estimated start and completion date
    • the discussed payment schedule
    • Whether you or the contractor will be pulling the necessary permits
    • how change orders will be handled
    • a detailed list of all materials. If some materials will be chosen later, the contract should say who’s responsible for choosing each item and what the allowance will be
    • information about any warranties  covering workmanship, with names and addresses of who is honoring them (this should include the length of the warranty period and any limitations)
    • what the contractor will and won’t do. For example, is site clean-up and trash hauling included in the price?
    • any promises made during conversations or calls
  1. Keep all your Records
  • Keep all paperwork related to your project in one place. If anything goes wrong you’ll be able to refer back to everything making for a much smoother appeal process.  This includes:
    • copies of the contract
    • change orders
    • photographs of project progression
    • any conversations between you and the contractor before, during, and after project completion
    • any correspondence with your home improvement professionals (i.e lawyer, realtor, etc.)
    • a record of all payments. You may need receipts for tax purposes.
  1. Use a Checklist
  • Before you sign off and make the final payment, check that:
    • all work meets the standards spelled out in the contract
    • you have inspected and approved the completed work
    • you have written warranties for materials and workmanship
    • the job site has been cleaned up and cleared of excess materials, tools, and equipment
    • you have proof that all subcontractors and suppliers have been paid
  1. Pay Carefully
  • Don’t make final payment until you’re satisfied, or you believe the contractor is complete
  • Know the limit of how much the final cost can exceed the estimate
  • Besides being satisfied with the work, you also need to know that subcontractors and suppliers have been paid.
  • You may consider protecting yourself by asking the contractor, and every subcontractor and supplier, for a lien release or lien waiver.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which steps you want to take. This may seem like a lot of work, but from the stories we’ve heard, we know protecting yourself is definitely worth the effort.

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