How exactly do you find a contractor to remodel your home without getting ripped off? That is the million dollar question, literally. Countless people across the nation are being left with leaky ceilings, moldy walls, and a huge bill to boot. Taking a few steps before signing the contract can prevent huge problems down the road and land you a contractor worth their salt… and your money.
There are some red flags you need to watch out for when looking for a contractor. People going door to door selling their services are not the contractors you want. Pressuring you to pay more than half up-front is an indication that they will only do half the work, if that. Actually, in some states there are legal limits to the amount of money a contractor can charge up front, so be sure to check out your state laws. If the contractor asks you to get the required building permits, s/he is trying to put the legal burdens on you, and that is a big no-no.
Once you have weeded out some scam artists, there are more steps that need to be taken to ensure a good contracting experience. First you should check your potential contractor’s license to see if they have any citations. That alone is not enough, however. You need to interview them thoroughly. Check their work history and, if possible, visit previous work sites. Look for trusted reviews of previous customers. Find out who are the contractor’s employees and if they use any subcontractors. You even need to check in with their materials suppliers to make sure they aren’t using shoddy products.
You also need to check the contractor’s insurance coverage. They should have Surety Bond, Workman’s Compensation (if they have employees), and General Liability Insurance. Additionally, make sure the contractor keeps a permanent physical business address, and not just a P.O. box. Also, get multiple bids to make sure the price is right. A price that is too cheap can be just as bad as too expensive in the world of home improvement.
Once you choose a contractor, you need to write up the contract. Get everything in writing; oral agreements are not binding. Details should include materials used, scope, and liabilities. Make sure to include a completion date and include the wording “time is of the essence” to keep the contractor bound to the date. Include penalties for running past the date. You should also include penalties for a “substantial” performance. Under law, unless otherwise specified in the contract, a contractor can do a “substantial” job, say 95% of the work, and still receive full payment. Ideally you should hire an attorney to help write up a full and binding contract. Most contractor law favors the contractor and not the consumer, so a good contract is your best protection to ensure a good job.
If you take the proper precautions, you should be able to avoid a home remodeling experience from Hell. Even if you do all your homework, however, you cannot guarantee the job will be done properly. You can guarantee that you won’t be left on the hook to pay for a poor job, though.
Contractors from Hell: http://www.contractorsfromhell.com/
Georgia Residential and General Contractors Law: http://sos.georgia.gov/acrobat/PLB/laws/49_Residential_And_General_Contractors_43-41.pdf
Georgia State Licensing Board for Residential and General Contractors, Tips for Consumers: http://sos.georgia.gov/plb/contractors/Tips%20for%20Consumers.pdf
Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection, Building Contractors: http://consumer.georgia.gov/consumer-topics/building-contractors
WSBTV, “Right to Repair” Law Investigated: http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/right-to-repair-law-investigated/nJSM3/
Home Builders Association of Georgia: http://www.hbag.org/
Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, Basics for Homeowners: Guide to Hiring a Contractor: http://www.lni.wa.gov/tradeslicensing/contractors/hirecon/checklist/before1.asp
Consumer Reports, How to Hire a Contractor: http://news.consumerreports.org/home/2008/01/angies-list.html