Next to slimy used car salesmen and shoddy Builders, the people I see taking advantage of consumers the most are remodeling contractors. Come to think about it, I’d say they are at the top of the list!
It doesn’t matter how large or small the job is, everyone can fall victim. I’ve seen homeowners doing $2500 jobs get taken advantage of just as quick as Clients doing a $157,000 project.
Here are a few fast and hard tips to keep you from getting hammered and nailed by a remodeling contractor.
If your state requires contractors to be licensed, ask for their license and follow up with the State to make sure their license is still current. Also ask for any complaints they may have against them.
Ask the contractors for a copy of their General Liability Insurance. Any reputable company will give you a copy. Follow up with a call to the company to make sure they actually have a policy and that it is current. Many a homeowner has tried to file a claim against bogus insurance policies. If the contractor doesn’t have General Liability Insurance, don’t use them. Period. If someone gets hurt at your home and the contractor does not have insurance, in many states you can be sued for any damages!
Ask for a list of recent and past references, including Clients who were not happy with the contractors work. If you deal with the general public enough, you’ll have unhappy clients. Everyone does. If the contractor tells you he doesn’t, either they have not been in business very long or they are lying.
Check with the BBB in your area to see if there have been any claims against the contractor. If so, see how they followed up. The BBB is not a guarantee against hiring a bad contractor, many times good ones are not listed with the BBB. Many of us who are self employed see the BBB as just another organization who makes money off of business’s through advertising.
A better organization to check is Angie’s List. You can find them at http://www.angieslist.com. Companies on Angies List cannot buy their way in or change the reviews of the consumers. Think of Angies List as a neighborhood referral list where a companies past customers grade their work. I’ve found them to be much more accurate and helpful than the BBB. The only downfall is they are not in every city yet.
Do not pay the contractor in cash! At the very least, pay them with a check. A credit card is even better, however some do not accept credit cards. That’s okay as long as they’ll take a check. If they refuse and only want cash, send them along their way. ‘Cash Only’ contractors are a red flag.
Pay the contractor in ‘draws’. Most contractors are use to getting paid as they go along. A draw payment is a partial payment. Normally the contractor will get paid something like 25% before they begin as a deposit, then another 25% part of the way through, then another 25% when they near completion and then the final 25% when they are finished. This is a rough sketch of a draw just to give you an idea how contractors work. Avoid any contractors who want the money up front, that’s not how legitimate contractors work.
Have plans (blueprints) and a contract for your remodeling job drawn up. Have an attorney experienced in construction contracts draw yours up. Yes, plans and contracts cost money. Without plans or a contract, it’s your word against theirs, and their word wins more times than not. Along with the plans, have specifications of what you want drawn up as well. Specify everything, from the type of lumber to the brand and type of faucets you’ll be installing. Leave nothing to chance! Plans and specifications are the ‘parts list’ for your remodeling project. Without them, it’s up the the contractor as to what goes in the project. Trust me, don’t leave it up to a contractor!
Hire an independent third party inspector (TPI). Not just any inspector either. You want a Code certified inspector who is knowledgeable about the codes in your area. Don’t rely on the city or county inspectors if you have them in your area. Municipal code inspectors do not inspect for the quality of workmanship. Many are overworked and in a hurry and only look for a few things. They also do not have your best interest at stake.
They work for the city or county and are looking out for the municipals best interest. Your TPI is on your side and has your best interest at stake. Your third party inspector can meet with you and your contractor and help you avoid surprises along the way. They can also warn you when the contractor starts to use short cuts with your project.
Your TPI should inspect the area that is to be remodeled before construction begins, during and after the construction is completed. Should problems arise, have all work (and draw payments) stopped until your TPI, you and the contractor can come to an agreement. Your TPI will be the best money spent if you hire the most qualified candidate!
Good luck on your remodeling project. And remember, there are shady contractors with big ads in the phone books and driving new pickups just looking for their next victim. Don’t you be it!