November 27th, 2016 11:21 AM by Jackie A. Graves, President
are you looking?
When it comes to finding a reliable pro for your remodeling project, the closer
to home you look, the better. Friends, family members, and neighbors are the
most trusted source for contractor referrals, says the National Association of
A referral from someone you know is a great place to start, but
don’t stop there — you’ll want at least three candidates. Cross-reference your
choices against various sources of information before settling on a contractor:
Better Business Bureau. Check for complaints
against the individual or company. If there are complaints, don’t jump to
conclusions — even really good contractors can have missteps. See if the dispute
has been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction — a good indication that the
contractor is diligent and well-intentioned.
Angie’s List, Consumers’ Checkbook, Craigslist, Yelp reviews.
The online community is a trove of peer opinions on professional contractors,
the quality of their work, and their reliability. But don’t rely on just one
review site; consult several. More on review sites below.
Hardware store, lumber store manager. Local
businesspeople serving the construction trades know who pays bills regularly,
who gets jobs done on time, and who has the best reputation.
Check their work with referrals. A contractor
isn’t going to recommend you visit any shoddy workmanship, but you’ll be able
to tell a lot by viewing some of his recent jobs. Have your contractor set up
dates and times. Don’t hesitate to ask the homeowners you visit if they got
along with the contractor and crew.
Are Online Reviews Bogus?
insights on everything from plumbers to roofing materials, online reviews of
contractors and products can be an easy and time-efficient way to find a
contractor. In fact, almost 80% of consumers trust online reviews, says a
survey from BrightLocal.
But should you? There’s genuine concern that some reviews may be deliberately
misleading. For instance:
Glowing reviews penned anonymously by a company’s employees
Hired writers who hand out five-star reviews for money
Rival companies who try to sink their competition with negative
addition, there are concerns about the companies’ business models. For
instance, Angie’s List takes advertising from contractors, which some say could
compromise rating integrity. On the other hand, Angie’s List requires a
subscription, which some say helps ensure quality.
So, are reviews really trustworthy? Amazon, Angie’s List, and Yelp all insist
they go the extra mile to ensure the authenticity of the opinions posted on
their websites. Angie’s List regularly screens reviews for suspicious patterns,
and Amazon’s rating system tends to smooth out any extreme highs and lows.
Our take? We like hearing from our peers, especially when it comes to localized
subjects and home improvement pros in our community. But get the big picture
before letting one online review sway your thinking:
Check reviews from various online sources — don’t rely on only
Judge extreme opinions with care: “Don’t let this guy set foot
on your property;” “best experience of my life.”
Balance positive and negative reviews. A single bad review can
easily taint any good ones. If you find a negative comment about a contractor
you’re interested in, check to see if the contractor has followed up and tried
to rectify the situation.
Your job is due diligence before you sign, making sure
that you understand everything in the contract and that it’s written to your
satisfaction. It’s a process, but we’ll take you through the necessary steps.
Step 1: Getting a bid. Before hiring a contractor,
seek at least three bids.
When you do, ask for itemized bids. It’s more work for the contractor, but it
lets you see exactly where costs are assigned. That way, if you need to trim,
you can find specifics that you may be able to do without.
Items to include:
Demolition and trash removal
Framing and finish carpentry
Step 2: Reviewing the contract. Once
you’ve selected a contractor, you’ll be presented with a remodeling contract.
Read it carefully. If you’re unsure about the terms, you can hire an attorney
to review it for about $500. Having your lawyer supply revisions may cost an
additional $1,000 to $1,500 in attorney’s fees.
The contract should include:
That all permits and approvals will be obtained by the
Beginning and end dates for the project
A schedule of payments from you to the contractor
Be sure to specify a substantial amount — 15% to 30% — for a
final payment to be made after the work is totally completed and you have
verification that all subcontractors have been paid; otherwise, an unpaid
subcontractor may put a lien on your house —
a legal claim that forces you to pay the debt yourself.
With subcontractors verified as paid, you’ll have the leverage of your final
payment to your contractor to ensure that all work is done to your satisfaction
and in accordance with the contract.
Step 3: Dealing with changes. Trust us:
Making a few changes to the project during construction is inevitable, so the
remodeling contract should include a change order clause. The clause should say
that if you change your mind about an item (adding more light fixtures, for
example), both you and the contractor agree what those changes will add to the
cost of the project.
The contract should state that change orders must be signed and countersigned
by both you and the contractor.
Step 4: Set up for arbitration. Nobody wants
to get into a legal hassle, but if you do, arbitration will save you the time
and money of taking a dispute all the way to court.
This is another item you’ll want in the contract before you sign. If the
contractor names a specific arbitrator, your antenna should go up. Research the
arbitrator and, if you don’t like what you find out, insist on another
arbitrator. Find arbitrators at the non-profit American Arbitration
but do it in the bathroom with the door shut. Then take a deep breath and
assess the situation. If the problem is chronic, disrupts the scheduling of
subcontractors, is accompanied by shoddy workmanship, and generally makes a
mess of your plans, you need to take action.
Start by documenting your grievances:
Note days and times that the crew or subcontractors failed to
show, and for how long.
Note delayed deliveries of materials and appliances.
Take clear photos of shoddy workmanship and any inferior
You’ll need to discuss problems with your contractor. Schedule a
meeting — not in front of the crew — and share your concerns.
A good contractor will work to rectify any wrongs. And there may be perfectly
logical explanations why things haven’t gone according to plan. But if you get
lame excuses — or worse, your contractor fails to show up for your meeting —
your next step is to take action against a bad contractor. Here are some
Fire your contractor. You’ll have to show
that your contractor didn’t fulfill on your agreement, otherwise he or she can
take you to court for breach of contract. Documentation is essential to proving
Send a return receipt letter to your contractor’s home and place of business,
saying that you expect problems to be fixed within a certain number of days or
else you’ll terminate the agreement for breach of contract.
Get an attorney. Your dispute will have to be
a major one to justify the $100 to $300 per hour fees that attorneys charge. If
so, find an attorney who handles building and remodeling contracts and is
familiar with your state laws and statutes.
Take your contractor to small claims court. In
small claims court, you represent yourself; a lawyer isn’t required. Again,
your documentation of problems is essential. A judge hears arguments and makes
Damage awards are limited and depend on the state where you file. Some rewards
are capped at only $2,500; a few states award damages as high as $25,000. Most
range from $3,000 to $7,500.
Should I Let the Crew Use My
relations with a contractor and crew are a two-way street. A little kindness
and consideration can go a long way toward getting a finished project you’re
proud of and that you’ll love for years to come.
Establish clear rules. If
the contractor doesn’t provide a portable toilet (many smaller jobs won’t) and
the crew is in need of a bio break:
Have them ask permission.
Designate a specific bathroom for the crew.
Have the crew provide protection for your flooring along the
route to the bathroom.
Put out clean — but not your best — hand towels.
Provide hand sanitizer.
Give them a break. You
won’t want to interrupt the workflow or the contractor’s schedule. But you can:
Provide lawn chairs for breaks — a shady spot is great for hot
Offer ice water or lemonade on excessively hot days.
Indicate a garden hose and spigot to be used for cleaning up.
If you’re up to it, provide morning coffee every now and then.
Check your contractor’s insurance. Accidents
can happen. Before you hire a contractor, ask for proof that the contractor has
valid liability insurance covering:
Bodily injury and property damage to you, your family, and your
Workman’s compensation for injuries to the contractor and crew
Accidents involving the contractor’s equipment (don’t provide
the contractor and crew with any of your own tools or equipment)
Check your own insurance. Make sure the
personal liability section of your homeowners policy covers
injuries incurred on your property.
your contractor with cash; instead, use a credit card that gives you a
clear paper trail. You can use a check, too, but make sure your bank keeps
photocopies of your checks as part of its services.
Establish a payment schedule in your contract. An example of pay installments:
Ten percent when the contract is signed. Some states limit the
amount of a downpayment to contractors to help prevent fraud. California
limits downpayments to 10% or $1,000, whichever is less. Check with
your state Department of Consumer Affairs for any limits on
Three 25% payments at pre-agreed-upon intervals, such as when
the building inspector signs off on plumbing, electrical, and framing.
Fifteen percent held in escrow for when the project is completed
to your satisfaction and all loose ends are tied up.
By John Riha