I see it every day: People are scared to hire contractors, and afraid that somehow they’re going to get burned by someone who’s dishonest. I’ve worked in this industry for a long time and quite frankly, it’s like any other. The majority of people are completely honest and reliable, but there are a few bad apples who sneak their way in. If you want to avoid a contractor nightmare, do your due diligence and read on!
Rule 1: Get References
As you’re narrowing down your list of potential contractors, make sure you request references from other clients. Before you take the plunge and trust them with your house, it’s important to ask for others they’ve worked with. Most contractors will be happy to provide a few names of happy customers.
Rule 2: Check References
References won’t do you any good if you don’t actually check them. It’s amazing how often people gather references and then never bother to call a single one. This is your opportunity to ask other clients how the project went, if they’re happy with the work, and what problems – if any – arose. Don’t waste this opportunity.
Rule 3: Ask Questions
Before you hire someone, ask as many questions as possible. A few you can start with is to ask about their work process, how they schedule trades, who they hire, and what hours they work. If someone is getting frustrated or can’t be bothered to answer, it may be a sign that they’re not the right person for the job.
Rule 4: Determine Your Budget
You may think this doesn’t play into your relationship with your contractor, but it will. It’s important to know just how much you can afford, so that you can communicate with your contractor and make sure there’s a clear understanding of costs and budget.
Rule 5: Agree on a Scope of Work
A “scope of work” is a detailed account of everything that will happen over the course of the project. Both you and your contractor need to agree to these terms and sign the scope of work before starting. The numbers won’t be exact, but it should be a pretty close approximation.
Rule 6: Decide Who Will Be Responsible for What
As you and your contractor develop the scope of work, make sure it’s understood who is responsible for what. Every agreement is a little bit different, so make sure you know what you need to do. For example, if you’re taking care of purchasing certain materials, you will need to make sure they’re on site on time.
Rule 7: Make a Plan Regarding Changes of Work
As the “scope of work” will be the foundation of the project, it doesn’t mean changes won’t occur along the way – either by choice or due to a renovation surprise. Any, and all, of these changes should be documented and added to the original scope of work. Make sure you’ve got a description of the new work that needs to be done, and most importantly, an invoice.
Rule 8: Create a Payment Schedule
You should never pay for everything up front, but you can’t expect your contractor to fund your project either. I usually suggest a payment schedule that begins with 1/3 payment upon commencement of work, 1/3 when rough-in inspections are passed, and 1/3 upon completion of work and a final walk through. A 10% deposit made to your contractor at the beginning of the job is also perfectly reasonable, so that materials can be purchased. Whatever you decide, just be sure to come to an agreement that’s fair for both of you.
Rule 9: Communicate Regularly
The best way to avoid a contractor nightmare is with communication. Check in every few days to see how things are going, and ask any questions you might have. I even suggest having a memo board that you and your contractor can use to leave messages or important documents for each other.
Rule 10: Nip Problems in the Bud
If you see something that concerns you, address the issue immediately. Even when you do everything properly leading up to the project, it’s still possible that there could have been a miscommunication or another problem. It’s far better to sort issues out right away rather than let them snowball.
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