Hiring the Wrong Contractor can be a Nightmare
Costing you Grief, Stress, Money and Peace of Mind
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Sure, he seemed nice, promised a good job and really talked like he knew what he was doing. He may have even had a pocketful of good reviews on the internet. Cheap, yep, he was cheap too. Past that, you needed the job done and he is available.
According to the Better Business Bureau, PA Attorney General, and just about every other consumer protection group, home improvement contractors rate as one of the leading sources of consumer complaints. A bad contractor can leave you with a terrible job and costing you more to correct than the contract amount in the first place.
Prequalify Potential Contractors
The last three contractors I was asked about after they botched a job had one thing in common. They did not have the required state license. Go to http://hicsearch.attorneygeneral.gov/ and confirm that the company is licensed before even speaking with a contractor.
Never, ever use a contractor that comes unsolicited to the your door. It is almost always a situation that will not end well for the consumer. This story starts with a knock at a door and ends with bad work and the homeowner's money and the contractor leaving town.
Do not beg a contractor to work for you. If they do not call you back when you ask for a quote, they will not call you back when there is a problem. If they are late or a "no show" for an appointment, they will not be on time when they are supposed to be working at your home. If the initial contact goes like a bad date, move on to someone who cares enough to treat you right.
The best references are through people you know. Ask a neighbor, co-worker, friend from your church or at your child's soccer game. The bottom line is that you want a referral from someone who has had real life experience with the person you are about to trust with your home and money.
Ask to see a "Project Book." If a contractor is experienced and takes pride in their work, they will have a project book showing prior projects. When discussing your project, ask for pictures of their current job. A contractor can take a picture on a phone and show you how they leave a home at the end of the day .
Interview the contractor
No matter what you want to think, if there are Spiderman like "Spidey Sense" warnings about working with someone, you should heed the warning. The relationship will not get better when the contractor has the leverage of your money and access to your home.
Take Your Time and Go Over Details of the Proposal Before Your Sign
The important details of the contract such as the scope of work, type of materials and payment terms are fundamental items we all know to look for in a contract. To protect yourself, you should go much further and include the items that will become more important than you can imagine during the actual project. This goes far beyond the physical scope of the project. Remember, get it in writing! "The faintest of ink is far more powerful than the strongest of promises".
Start date: Without a start date, it could be months or even years before you can initiate any action if the contractor fails to start your job.
End date for the project: Allow more time than you think it should take. Every project takes longer than you and your contractor will think it will. However, if your contractor does a "Houdini" on you, you need a drop dead finish date to go after the bum for not finishing your job.
Establish how "extras" will be handled: "Extras" are one of the biggest nightmares of a job. My best suggestion is adding the provision: "extras must be agreed in price and detail before they are performed, or there will no charge." I assure you that will save a lot of stress and unfair expense at the end of the project. It is better to negotiate price before the work is done.
Hours of work: When does the day start, when does it end, what days of the week will work be done? Will work be continuous once started? What are the provisions for exceptions? Include provision of when and how you will be informed of changes in plans. They will happen.
How bathroom access will work: Let me tell you, this can be an important and personal issue for a homeowner.
Utility issues: Determine access to utilities and how interruptions in service will be handled .
Site cleanup at the end of each day: Dirt, nails, open roofs, unlocked doors and a host of other details will become very important to you
Exactly define stage payments: You do not want to be in the position of being forced to write a check when a stage payment goal is reached by skipping important preliminary work.
Get a written warranty: Define what is covered and for how long. The land mine here is avoiding the contractor weaseling out of a warranty call by blaming the materials he suggested and installed
Obtain a Workman's Compensation and General Liability insurance certificate: Their insurance agent will provide these upon request with no cost to the contractor. You do not want sued by workmen or a neighbor whose property your contractor damaged.
Define who is responsible for obtaining and paying for permits and inspections. Homeowners can be made to tear out work that was not properly permitted and inspected.
If you are like most people, your home, privacy and security are important to you and the construction process is personal and invasive. Do not be afraid to ask advice from people you know and trust. Second opinions are usually a good option. Being pushed or bullied into quick decision is more often than not, a very bad place to be.