Do an Internet search on the words “home renovation” and you will find a plethora of results all leading to businesses in the renovation industry. While there is no shortage of contractors available for every repair or home makeover project, choosing the right contractor or company for the job is of considerable importance. No one wants to pay for poor workmanship, incomplete jobs or worse, nothing at all. Unfortunately, it happens more often than you think. While you can't prevent contractors from taking advantage of homeowners, you can take steps to prevent yourself from being taken advantage of by simply doing your homework.
Start with referrals
Chances are family and friends are not going to steer you in the wrong direction with your home renovations. Asking for references on similar jobs they may have finished is ideal because you can get a good indication of the contractor's quality of work and dependability. If that is not an option, consider your local home renovation or home builders association as well as building supply stores.
Just like credit card or mortgage companies, conducting background checks on contractors gives you an idea of a business's reputation and work ethic. Do not be afraid of asking for names and numbers of past jobs. Contractors are not cheap; your research should not be either. Do not settle for letters – those can be fabricated or written by family and friends. A reputable contractor is willing to provide a list of past clients.
Listen to that voice in your head
If you have a poor gut feeling about a contractor, chances are something is not right. A good contractor is easy to communicate with, accessible, returns calls, discusses options for problems which may arise, is knowledgeable, provides estimates on paper and works within your budget. If they falter on any of those items, you might want to move onto the next candidate.
Confirm the qualifications
You would not hire someone who is “read about” lighting to work on your electrical – that is literally playing with fire. Make sure the contractor and their sub-contractors have the appropriate licenses and skills by asking for their business license number and confirming with your local licensing office whether they are in good standing. You also need to validate whether they are insured for public liability and property damage as well as workers' compensation.
Understand the project
The larger the renovation, the more complicated it will be. Make sure you understand the progression in all of its stages; prior to, during and after completion. Do not leave yourself or your wallet open to unexpected surprises or assumptions or questions. Have your responsibilities and those of the contractor defined and set in writing that way all parties know what is expected of them and who is accountable for what.
Get it in writing
Lawyers are rich because people opt for trust over treaty. Unless it is in writing, you can assume all verbal agreements are non-existent and will not stand up in court. Confirm the renovation details in writing along with quotes, amendments to pricing, and arrangements for delays or unexpected costs.
Sometimes the lowest price is not always the best option. It is always a good idea to accept several estimates in order to gage a median price and negotiate from there. The contractor willing to cut “dirty deals” may also cut corners; creating potential health and safety issues down the road. Conversely, the contractor submitting an inflated estimate is probably not worth your time or money if a fat invoice supersedes the project.
How a contractor conducts their financial transactions is a pretty good indication of their work ethic. Someone who asks for cash-only payments and is dodgy about providing receipts or a contract is probably unlicensed, uninsured and almost guaranteed to be untrustworthy and unreliable. Cash deals also leave homeowners with little legal recourse if something goes wrong or if the contractor decides to walk off the job. Do not risk getting burned by trying to save a few dollars; you may end up paying twice the amount down the road.
Once you have chosen a contractor for your renovation project be sure to keep the lines of communication open. It is important to remember you will be seeing your contractor and their crew often and that mutual respect is a give and take; work with your contractor but do not micro manage to the point where you are in the way of them doing their job. It becomes distracting and creates an unhealthy work environment.