In the 17 years, I have been working with homeowners through my website ContractorsFormHell.com, as well as with staff at the Contractors State License Board, it never surprises me as to why consumers end up having problems with their contractors. It’s simply the steps the homeowner should have taken before they even thought about hiring a contractor, architect or designer that tripped them up.
It’s what I call the “pre-renovation” process, which gets you engaged in doing some necessary research on your contractors’ state laws with the goal of getting informed and in control of your remodeling or building project. Unfortunately, most folks go from thinking “it’s time to do some renovation projects” to “let’s start looking for a contractor”. They’ve skipped over the most important work, the bridge that would have taken them to have a successful, drama-free remodeling project.
So, if you want to avoid a home remodeling nightmare and have a more positive experience instead (and who wouldn’t!), you cannot afford to skip following steps:
1. Check to see if your state requires licensing or registration of general contractors. If not, check if there is something at the local level that requires licensing or registration. Every state, city and township has different requirements. Keep in mind that doing license checks is simply a necessary formality and does not give you all the information you need to know about the contractor to make an informed decision.
2. Thoroughly interview the contractor, asking key questions about job performance, employees, subcontractors, material suppliers he uses, projects he has done similar to yours and how he handles problems when they come up – because they will come up. Take note of his/her communication style, and ask how often they will visit your project as well as meet with you to assess progress and answer questions or concerns. And is this someone you could work with and whose personality you like?
3. Verify that the contractor maintains a permanent, physical address and not just a post office box or postal annex suite. Does the company have a published phone number, cell number and physical address? Ask how messages are handled: does he/she have an assistant or does he personally take calls? Contractors are busy throughout the day with multiple projects and will at least get back to you by the end of the day.
4. Get educated about legal construction documents you need to use throughout your project to protect yourself and your money. For example, requiring Lien Releases when payments are made to the contractor, from all who performed work or supplied materials, will keep you from having to pay twice for work you thought the contractor covered Essentially, a signed Lien Release states that all have been paid and releases your property from a mechanics lien filing.
Another pitfall to look out for is “extra work”. Many homeowners are often surprised when they receive a bill for extra work the contractor did what they thought was part of the contract. It could be that the contractor ran into some unforeseen problems, and may have told you about it, or he just went ahead and took care of it.
Either way, you get hit with the bill and the cost could potentially be significant. And how do you know it’s a fair price? That’s where requiring formal “Change Orders” be stipulated in your agreement, in that any extra work must be agreed to and signed by both parties and the cost added onto the contract before any work is performed. These are just two examples of using legal documents to better manage your project and protect yourself from any unethical business practices.
5. Research what your states downpayment requirements are when hiring contractors. Some states require no more than 10% and others upwards of 25%. Don’t assume that the contractor won’t ask for more than is legal to begin your project. Above all, never give the contractor a large sum of money to begin your project. This is referred to as “front loading” the contract, where you can potentially lose your money to an unethical contractor, who stalls starting the project, or worse, you never see them again.
Contracting is risky business if you don’t know the rules. Make sure you get informed so that you don’t get burned!
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