Demo can be therapeutic. Taking a sledgehammer to drywall is a great tension reliever, not to mention strength-training workout. But what about when it comes time to build the walls back up? The challenges and horror stories of construction are well documented. As the client, we’re told to plan to double the quoted price, plan to double the quoted timeline, and plan to live in sheer chaos while work is in progress. And then there’s the question of quality. HGTV personality Mike Holmes has made a career out of exposing inadequate, slipshod and – in some cases – deliberately deceitful contractor handiwork.
So how does one mitigate the headache? How do we ensure our homes are in good hands when we entrust them to an unknown and untested professional?
- While nothing is fool-proof, here are some helpful hints:
- Outline your project thoroughly. It sounds basic, but clearly communicating the extent of the project and all your expectations first in writing will help reduce room for confusion. Creating a project outline will also help prospective contractors in assembling their bid for your project. After the project report is given to each potential contractor, be sure to verbally review the document with each vendor to answer any questions that may exist. Then modify your document with answers to all questions received, and re-issue it to the service provider.
- Interview your finalists. When bids are in and you have identified project finalists, it’s time for you to ask the questions. Treat the process as you would any professional hiring. Ask questions related to previous work history, including percentage of projects delivered on time and on budget. Be sure to ask about work guarantees and warranties, if any.
- Research final candidates. You need references, license, bonding and insurance information. Ask for references, and then check them, being sure to interview the references as thoroughly as you did the prospective contractors. Tip: While your potential hires are unlikely to include an unhappy client on their reference list, be sure to inquire about a past scenario in which a client was dissatisfied. Then seek details surrounding that particular project. Understanding the minuses, along with the pluses, will help you find the right fit. Be sure to check that your potential contractor(s) have current registrations and licensing, as well as insurance. (In Tennessee, check TN.gov to know the legal requirements for service providers.)
- Check for complaints. Do your prospects have formal complaints lodged against them? You’ll want to check, and there are resources aplenty to help you do just that. The Better Business Bureau Web site, BBB.org is an excellent source, with comprehensive consumer complaints available by geography and by keyword search. Tennessee’s Division of Regulator Boards reports monthly on firms that have faced Disciplinary Action, while the Consumer Affairs Division publishes its Problem Contractors list. Note, however, that these reports only include closed cases. Pending cases can be evaluated through other tools available on the Consumer Resources page.
- Get proper documentation. The first, and most obvious, need is a contract. Make sure the contract outlines full contact information for the contractor (including sales state ID/license number and sales representative information), the project scope, the fee and payment schedule, project timeline (and associated provisions for delays), warranty information, a right-to-cancel clause and more. For a complete checklist of contract inclusions, review “A Consumer’s Guide to Home Improvement Contracts” by the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies. Secondly, be sure proper permits are in order. Your contractor should do the leg work here, but be sure you have copies of all inspection paperwork and work permits. And where required, obtain proof of insurance for your contractors’ Workers Compensation policy.
- Be discerning in your selection. It’s important to be keen to some red flags when evaluating contractors. Some things to watch for include:
- High-pressure sales tactics. If you’re offered a special discount for immediately signing on the dotted line, be wary.
- Works after hours or only on weekends. If your contractor works only evenings or weekends, it may be an indicator that this isn’t their primary profession, which may or may not be a point of concern.
- Requires cash or large up-front deposit. Accepting cash only, or expecting a hefty down payment for services not yet rendered should raise question.
- Asks you to secure permits. Reputable contractors will handle this portion of the project.
- Won’t put it in writing. If a provider hesitates to offer a written bid or contract, run the other way. Verbal contracts are much harder to enforce.
- Too-good-to-be-true promises. If the bid you consider is much lower than others, or if warranties and guarantees seem longer than standard, use caution.
The steps above will help you avoid situations like these.
There are many tools and resources available to homeowners preparing to start home improvement projects. A little upfront information seeking can help ensure you find the right professionals to deliver on your particular project needs…and save you the headache and heartache that might otherwise send you to Mike Holmes.