March 26th, 2014 11:40 AM by Jackie A. Graves
You've saved your pennies, you've pinned all
the things you love to Pinterest and now it's finally time to fix up your
kitchen or redo your bathroom or build that deck. Now comes the easy part:
finding an excellent contractor and getting started. Right?
If you go by the idea
that most people are good, you can also assume that most contractors are also
good. And while that may, in fact, be true, stories of undependable and
unscrupulous contractors abound. So here are 10 things you can do to make sure
you don't end up with a shoddy space, or worse, a half-done room, a hole in
your bank account, and a court date.
1. Do your research.
You need to know that the person you are allowing into your home is qualified
and trustworthy. Working with someone who is referred to you by someone you
trust is the best approach. Or, use Angie's List or another service that rates
contractors and depends on word of mouth. You don't want to find out halfway
through your roof repair that your unlicensed contractor is also a fugitive.
2. Do more research.
If you get an
estimate for $15 a square foot for a typical tile installation job, it helps to
know that $3-6 a square foot is closer to the going rate.
3. Trust your gut.
A contractor whose
response to your punch list is "Wow, did you win the lottery or
something?!" is probably not going to be the most economical resource.
Next! Likewise for a contractor who berates or belittles you for expressing an
opinion about his work. It's your house and your money.
4. Demand respect for
True or not,
contractors have a reputation for a lack of promptness. Everyone is late
occasionally, but if it becomes a habit, it could end up costing you more than
time. You may not always know if this is going to be a problem when you hire a
contractor, but if he shows up for your first meeting late - and especially
without calling to let you know - you might want to move on to the next guy.
Someone who doesn't respect your time when he's trying to get the job certainly
won't once he has it.
5. Negotiate up
Especially if you
have a contractor doing multiple jobs in your home, rates should be negotiable.
Make sure you agree to an amount - in writing - before work begins.
6. Don't pay
everything up front.
The Chicago Tribune
says that most states allow contractors to ask for a maximum of 33 percent of
the total cost up front. "Your contractor shouldn't ask for an
unreasonable sum of money up front. Yes, he needs money to get the project
started, but asking for more than 15 percent raises a red flag," said How Stuff Works. "Your contractor should have enough
credit to pay the rest of the up-front costs."
7. Don't be afraid to speak up if (when!)
something goes wrong.
It's OK to be the
person who doesn't send your sandwich back because they forgot to leave the
onions off. Living with a kitchen that has mismatched tile because you were too
timid to speak up and make your contractor fix it will make you angry every
If you see your
renovation going in an unwanted direction or are finding that your contractor
isn't living up to expectations, start writing it all down. "Document each
time the contractor doesn't live up to the specifics of the contract, such as
substituting inferior materials or failing to stick to the schedule," said House Logic. "Then send a return-receipt letter to her
business and home address stating that unless the problem is rectified within a
specified number of days, she's in breach of contract, and you'll be
9. Don't be afraid to
pull the plug.
When it just gets to
be too much, and you have just cause, end your arrangement. "Firing your
contractor may seem obvious, but it's not an easy step when things go seriously
wrong. Your contractor could challenge the firing in court as a breach of
contract: You must show that he breached the contractor agreement first,"
said House Logic. "A contractor probably won't refund money
you've already paid. If you've written any checks up front, this tactic can be
10. Don't end up on
A renovation gone
sideways with a contractor who has a history of questionable work or behavior
could end badly for everyone. Be careful working with someone who is unlicensed
or has an iffy track record out of obligation or because you're chasing a
lowball estimate. You don't want to be the guy out 50k, sitting in your
ripped-up living room, watching your story unfold on the nightly news.