How Not to Get Nailed by Your Contractor
Start by finding several reputable contractors to come over and assess the job. It is highly recommended for homeowners to get at least two or three bids per job.
The best place to find potential contractors is through a friend, family member or neighbor who has hired a contractor for a similar renovation and is happy with the work provided. Think of someone who’s had work done in the past few years, or neighbors who’ve posted contractor signs on their front lawns. As a courtesy to our clients we maintain a list of local Skagit and Island County contractors
Local and national home building associations also recommend contractors who meet insurance and license standards. The National Association of Home Builders refers member association who have contractors, renovators, land developers and other specialists referral programs. The Skagit and Island County Home Builders Association member list is also a source of local contractors.
Ask each contractor for an up-to-date license and proof of insurance if needed in the region, and a list of references. After visiting a job site, a contractor should be able to provide a written quotation of what the work will cost. Get a written quote (rather than verbal) of the total labour and materials costs. The cheapest price isn’t always best. Be wary of contractors quoting low or offering discounts; they might not do a good job.
Checking A Contractor’s References
A good contractor should have no problems offering references. Ask for up-to-date addresses, phone numbers and to see the contractor’s work (homeowners will want to know if it meets their standards). Being thorough will help determine whether the contractor is right for the job.
Ask references questions such as,
- Was the contractor easy to work with?
- How is his work?
- Did he provide what he was contracted to do?
- What were the costs?
- Were there extra costs on top of the original contract?
- Did he finish on time?
- Were there any problems while the work was being completed?
Checking references is only one assurance. Bad contractors have been known to use friends posing as references. Ask for the addresses of the work being used for the references. In many cases the owners will be proud of the changes made and be happy to show it off. You can also check a potential contractor’s reputation with the following organizations:
Check that a contractor has updated insurance while working on a job. With workers coming and going, and bringing heavy building materials into the home, it’s easy for valuable possessions to get damaged during a renovation. A fire during electrical or plumbing work is also not uncommon. Regular home insurance will not cover a homeowner if an accident happens while a contractor is working. The contractor needs his own insurance to cover such mishaps. He should already have a policy in place. If he doesn’t, he can obtain temporary insurance for the renovation. Check with local municipalities to see whether insurance is a legal requirement.
Building Permits For Renovations
In many states, getting a permit is necessary for almost any home renovation, no matter how small. If a contractor is building a deck, installing central air or somehow changing the use of a building, the homeowner needs a permit. Each community has its own building and demolition standards. Check with municipal governments or county for work requiring permits. For electrical work, homeowners can ask their provincial electrical authority about whether permits are necessary for certain jobs.
In Washington and Skagit County in particular, the homeowner’s or builder needs to obtain a permit for work done. If your builder says that its not necessary, call the local building department and confirm it. This should be a red flag as the builder may be unlicensed and/ or doing substandard work. Building inspectors, who assess code and provide a necessary second set of eyes on the work, won’t come by unless a permit has been obtained. In the end, it’s the homeowner’s responsibility, not the contractor’s, for a property being up to code after a renovation.
Payments & Holdbacks
A contractor paid upfront might be less likely to work hard and well. To ensure work is completed, homeowners can set up a staggered payment schedule according to tasks finished. For example:
Small down payment, if necessary, for contractor’s time (eg. $1,000 – $2,500)
- 25% once electrical is done
- 25% for insulation and drywall
- 25% for painting
- 15% for final completion
- 10% holdback for 30 days upon completion of work
The holdback of 10 to 15% of the contractor’s fee is the consumer’s legal right in many states. It protects homeowners against anything that might go wrong with the work. The holdback also allows homeowners to check that a lien hasn’t been placed on their house. If a contractor has overdue debts, a lien may be placed on the home by his creditors preventing the homeowner from taking out a mortgage. Check with local county or state about lien and holdback laws.
Assess whether a staggered payment method is necessary for smaller jobs. A renovation that takes a few days probably requires only one payment at the end.
Contractor Red Flags
- Contractors without a valid license.
- A contractor without his own insurance covering accidental damage that might occur on the job.
- Contractors asking for large down payments ahead of completing at least some work (for example, electrical), or to cover building materials. Many contractors have 30 days to pay their suppliers.
- Anyone who won’t provide a contract specifying work completion and amounts paid.
- A contractor without a valid address and phone number, or with just an answering service. Ask for a cellphone number and know how to find a contractor in the case he goes missing without completing the work.
- Someone unwilling to provide references of past work. Any good contractor will be happy to do so.
- Contractors knocking at the door offering discounts because they’re working in the area, or reduced rates if they can advertise on your property.
- A contractor quoting prices over the phone. Costs for each job are very specific, and need to be assessed at the place of completion.
Make A Complaint About A Bad Contractor
First, speak to the contractor about what went wrong. Attempt to work out disagreements, even if it means signing another contract to correct mistakes or inaccuracies.
If it’s impossible to work things out, or if a contractor goes missing without completing work, homeowners can:
- File a consumer complaint at the State consumer affairs office
- Alert the county or city that granted the contractor his license. This office might be able to prevent that contractor from getting another license.
- Report the contractor to the Better Business Bureau
- Contact the Local Home Builders’ Association or a local or provincial one in specific regions.