Your house is a mess. You can't use your bathroom or kitchen. Strangers come and go all day. Just some everyday occurrences during a home improvement project that can disrupt your world and make life miserable! But...the results can be well worth the trouble. A remodel well done can bring enjoyment and add value to your home for years to come.
Sometimes, however, working with contractors is worse than a natural disaster. If the workmen do shoddy work, overcharge, or never finish the job, the result can be a nightmare. The following tips on working with a contractor can help make sure your improvement turns out the way you expect.
Be a part of the process
Know exactly what you want before you pick up the phone to start calling contractors for pricing. Research the market to find out what you like. Pick out specific products (by brand name, model and style) to include in the renovation. For example, if you're updating your bathroom, go to home centers and check out all the latest fixtures and faucets. When you call in contractors for prices, tell them which brand and style you've chosen. Don't leave the choice of materials up to the contractor or you're likely to get the less expensive on-the-shelf products available, which may or may not be to your liking.
Get a Written Contract
Use a written agreement for any work you are having done in or on your home. Make sure the contract states what is to be done, in as much detail as possible, has a price for said work, outlines possible delays and overages and a start/completion date. A common complaint is that the job always takes longer then a contractor estimated. If you want to avoid this, ask about a "time of the essence" clause, which charges a penalty to the contractor if the job takes too long. The contract should also set forth a payment schedule. As a general rule, put up a small down payment to get on the books and space out the balance; we call these incremental payments. Reserve at least 10% of the total amount for a final payment and release this money only after you are satisfied with the work. This amount depends on the size and length of the job and should always be discussed and agreed upon by both parties prior to the contract signing so it’s clear. Don’t sign the contract until you’re clear about the details.
If a contractor doesn't give you a contract, you don’t want to work with that contractor. This happens all the time and it’s the biggest reason I’m called in and by that time we’re mediating and not just coaching. Coaching is going to cost you less in the long run, not just my costs, but any amounts you’ve paid the contractor to do the “wrong job” followed by hiring a contractor to do the “right job”.
If additional work comes up that is outside the scope of work in the original contract, this must be in writing as well. Don’t simply have a verbal agreement regarding any changes you or the contractor makes. If construction is underway and something unforeseen comes up that changes the original work, have communication about it, specifically: how much will that cost? why was it an unforeseen and how much time will that add to the job? Don’t sign the change order until you’re clear about the details.
Check Insurance & License
Do the research when it comes to the contractor you choose. Your state probably has a website for checking these items.
Keep a folder for all paperwork pertaining to the remodel so you can refer to it if necessary if there are any questions. For larger jobs, keep notes of conversations you've had with contractors over challenges, changes, etc. This may seem like a lot of work but having a thorough written record of day-to-day events can make a big difference in helping you win any dispute, which might possibly come up.
Stay tuned for more in my upcoming book: Remodel 411 – The Relationship of Remodeling.
CEO – Eye For Detail Inc.