At some point of time or the other, it becomes essential for home owners to undertake repairs or modernize their property. And, it is during such occasions that the look for people or contractors to undertake the job on his or her behalf. The fact is that even home owners who are skilled in home repair jobs, need to hire contractors just because the task is not only difficult and time consuming, but also enormous. In this article we shall discuss the ways and means to select and engage an efficient contractor for your home repairs and renovations and with whom you will be able to work practically and successfully to achieve the desired results.
Having made a decision to repair or renovate your home, and are familiar with or have a fair idea of what you want to be done, the most important thing is to select the right contractor or renovator to undertake the task successfully. Since, this is one of the most important tasks you need to perform even before you embark on your home repair or renovation; it is advisable not to make haste while selecting the contractor for the job.
Before you engage the services of a contractor for the job, make certain that he or she possesses the requisite technical, business and social abilities. In addition, also verify if the potential contractor also has the paraphernalia as well as the necessary know-how and understanding to undertake the job and complete it to your utmost satisfaction. In fact, it is always advisable to engage the services of a contractor who has experience in handling the type of job you want to offer him or her. A good contractor should be familiar with the materials and modus operandi required to do your job and it would be an added advantage if he or she is also aware of the problems associated with similar kind of job and knows how to work them out.
In case you are planning a big renovation project, it is better that you entrust the entire job with a competent renovator, as most renovating contract firms are established to take care of both the designing as well as the reconstruction aspects of any project. However, even before you allocate the project to a contractor or renovator, depending on the magnitude of your venture, you first need to engage the services of an architect, architectural technologist or a designer to get a plan of your project ready to apply for clearance from the concerned authorities. Once you plan is approved, you may invite your selected contractors or renovators to put forward their quotes on the basis of these plans. In fact, a number of these professionals may also offer you their services to supervise and administer your entire project. This means that they would be working on your behalf to obtain all the essential authorizations, hire the requisite number of contractors as well as oversee or take charge of the work.
When we say that you should look for a contractor who is right for your home repair and renovation project, we mean that he or she should not only possess the technical and professional abilities, but also have experience in handling the type of job you want them to undertake to your complete satisfaction. Well, saying this is easier than finding one. So, what should you do to find the most appropriate contractor for your project? Begin with looking for not one, but a number of suitable contractors. Try to obtain references from your family members, friends and neighbors who have already had similar jobs done with the help of a contractor. They are the best persons to inform you how reliable the contractors they worked with are, the quality of their work as well as the clients' overall satisfaction with the specific firm. You may also approach you neighborhood homebuilder and renovator associations, local building material supplies, people working in the municipality and the building department in your area in your endeavor to find the most suitable contractor for your project. In addition, you may also surf the Internet for the websites of the contractors in your area for information.
Having selected a number of potential contractors for your project, ask them for their suggestions and advice regarding your project. Also solicit their opinion on the manner they intend to do the work if it is allocated to them. Although your first meeting with the potential contractors should be aimed at knowing them individually as well as their abilities and work, some of them may also provide you with an approximate estimate of the expenditure needed for your project depending on its scope and intricacy. It is important not to sign any papers or pay any of these potential contractors any amount at this stage unless you have already checked out on any particular contractor beforehand.
It is very natural that you would want to know as much as possible regarding each potential contractor and their work when you meet them for the first time. Hence, you need to ask them a lot of questions. Below, we present you some probable questions that you may ask the potential contractors during your first meeting with them. Ask them:
If you think that these questions will offend the potential contractors, you are mistaken. Remember, no firm worth its repute will ever take such questions from a potential client as an offense. In case any contractor is not familiar with the technical aspects regarding the job or is not willing to discuss them with you, it is certain that he or she is not the suitable contractor for your project.
As discussed earlier, if any of the potential contractors offers to complete the entire project all by them, ensure that he or she possesses all the requisite abilities, qualifications and experience.
What is, however, of utmost importance is the fact that before you hire a contractor if he or she has the necessary interpersonal skills and that you will be able to work with them comfortably. It you have a big project that needs enough time to complete, things may turn out to be tense or even sour if you do not share a good rapport with the contractor and are unable to communicate successfully with him or her. In fact, the ideal or most suitable contractor is the one who will explain the latest developments as the project takes shape, discuss the problems with you sensibly and who will work in tandem with you to complete the project to your utmost satisfaction or as you had desired it to be.
In addition, you would also want that the contractor you have hired for your project will be eager and able to assist you in improving your plans wherever it is feasible and suggest you ways and means to make the project better as well as cost-effective. In fact, any well-informed and experienced contractor who is familiar with the type of job you have undertaken should be able to recommend techniques that will deliver you the desired results within your budget.
Although many potential contractors may make tall claims regarding the quality of their work, remember that the best proof of quality work is only the satisfied customers. Hence, it is important that before meeting any potential contractor, ask them to bring along at least three references from their previous clients who have entrusted them with jobs similar to your project and those were completed to the customers' satisfaction. Remember never to take the references these potential contractors bring along with them at their face value. Ask the potential contractors for the telephone numbers of the customers whose references they have produced before you. Next, you should call up each of these customers on the phone and find out if they were satisfied with the quality of the work done by their contractor. Also ask them if there were any problems and whether the contractors kept them informed about the development of their project at every stage. You should also find out if the contractor's staff kept the work site clean and whether their projects were completed on schedule. Also ask these customers/ home owners if there were any alteration to the extent of their work, and if there was any, find out about the manner in which they were taken care of. Finally, ask them if they would like to hire the same contractor again in future and also recommend the contractor to their friends and other family members.
If the previous clients of the potential contractor whose references were produced before you are willing to hire the same contractor for other home repair or renovation jobs in future, you need to visit these customers in person to examine their completed projects. In fact, the willingness of these customers to hire the contractor again is itself evidence of the fact that they are satisfied with the job done by the contractor. In addition, you may also check out about the potential contractor with the Better Business Bureau in your locality, as it documents all complaints regarding the contractions in you neighborhood.
Before you take a final decision on hiring a contractor for your project, you need to get quotes or offers from the potential contractors to enable you to have an estimation of the expenditure. Many people, especially inexperienced home owners, will want to know how many estimates or bids they must obtain before taking a final decision on the issue. It is important to note here that there no strict rule in this regard and you may take the final decision once you are satisfied that the costs are within your affordability and the contractor has the requisite experience and skills as well as a proven track record.
Different people deal with the situation differently. While some people would like to receive numerous bids or offers before they can make up their mind regarding which contractor to hire, there are several others, who find that once the interviews with the potential contractors is over, there is one or two preferable contractors left in their list. In this case, the second category of people usually only ask these shortlisted contractors to submit written estimates or offers officially. What is actually important is that you should feel that you have collected sufficient information regarding the potential contractors and are in a position to make the appropriate choice.
However, as a universal rule, once you have the appropriate drawings and specifications ready, three assessments or estimates are generally enough to provide you with adequate information to take the final decision regarding which contractor you should hire for the project. In order to obtain proper estimates, particularly for large projects, you will be required to have your drawings/ blueprints and meticulous requirements ready beforehand. In order to get suitable designs and specifications, you may choose to hire an architect, a designer or a renovator who will also provide you with the designing services along with the undertaking the renovation job. In case you are hiring a renovator for the designing job, you may enter into a contract with the renovation contract firm for the entire project, including the renovation and repair jobs. On the other hand, if you decide to use the design provided by the renovator and entrust the job to another contractor, you will be required to pay the renovator for the design services provided by renovation contract firm.
Remember, even when you have a relatively small project, it is essential to have a group of specifications. They are necessary for the proper management of any project. It is also important to be meticulous about everything - from the drawing, design to specifications. And this includes the kind of flooring your require, the type and brand of doors and windows you desire and also the finishing that you would like to have.
When you have a big project to be undertaken, it may consume enough time, two to three weeks, for the contractor only to get the estimation ready. In such cases, ask the contractor to present his or her estimate in person to enable you to discuss the matter with them in detail and understand every aspect of it. When you have received the estimate, evaluate it with awareness and ensure that it encompasses all the aspects you want. In fact, the estimate needs to incorporate all things that the contractor is required to complete the job to your satisfaction. Make sure that the price of each and every thing is also included in the estimate. At the same time, it is important that the contractor provides you with a construction timetable along with the estimation.
There may be instances when a contractor will offer you a 'fixed price' quotation. It may be noted that a fixed price incorporates all expenses, including cost of materials, labor, equipment, and charges. In addition, it will also include expenses towards unforeseen events, overhead as well as profits. In a number of instances, payments are fixed for items that you might not have selected yet, such as flooring, light fixtures etc. However, the prices are too an estimation and would be adjusted in future when you have actually made a final choice.
Honestly speaking, it is quite tricky to prepare an estimation regarding the amount of money a job may cost. For instance, if you have an old house that may require some additional work, you may choose to adopt the 'cost-plus method' while signing an agreement with the contractor. When you adopt the 'cost-plus' method in your contract, you actually reimburse the contractor the actual expenditure incurred on labor, building and other materials, equipment as well as a fraction for overhead and the profit. In fact, cost-plus contracts allow the costs to go out of hand, so it is always advisable to fix a limit so that the expenses do not go haywire.
Always bear in mind that when you are undertaking a renovation of your home, it may possibly reveal some unknown problems. Thus, you need to make sure that you have a contingency budget to meet the expenses that you might incur for the unanticipated problems.
Apart from the 'fixed price' and the 'cost-plus' method, you have the alternative to go for a design-build contract. In this case, the renovator does the designing for the project and also undertakes the entire job. However, in this case too, you may go in for a fixed price or a cost-plus contract with the contractor restricting the expenditures within a certain limit.
Many people are inclined to automatically accept the lowest bid or estimate offered by a contractor for their home repair or renovation projects. However, never commit this oft-repeated mistake. The lowest estimate offered by any contractor may not be a realistic option. There may be several reasons for this. It is possible that the contractor has not completely and properly understood the entire project and may be undervaluing the work and thinking that he or she would be able to complete the job much ahead of their professional rivals. It is also possible that the contractor plans to use inferior quality materials, do a hasty job or does not possess the requisite equipment and expertise and, hence, made the lowest quote. It is also possible that he or she may simple be endeavoring to obtain a price advantage over the other competitors vying for the job. In case, you simply select the lowest bid without going into these details or other merits of the contractor, it is possible that you may end up with a work that will leave you unsatisfied. Thus, when you are accepting the lowest estimate automatically, you are taking a risk that is not only unforeseen, but may also result in additional expenditures.
Try to Find a Reasonable Price: It is important to remember that there is a great difference in the estimate a contractor is offering you and the expertise that he or she will bring to the work. Find this difference and then include intangible aspects, such as reputation of the contractor, his or her eagerness to make suggestions/ recommendations, offer counsel on the betterment and cost-efficiency of the project as well as the possibility of standing behind the work. Finally, hire the contractor who you think will give you the best value for your money on the whole.
Irrespective of what is the estimate, qualification, expertise or experience, never be lured to hire a contractor who does not have an address, is not willing to enter into a written agreement and is willing to give you a price cut if you pay him or her in cash. Remember, this kind of secretive financial dealings entails several hazards and drawbacks that actually counteract any savings to a home owner.
For instance, it is possible that contractors, who maintain that you pay them in cash, may possibly be unlicensed or not insured. Most importantly, when you pay cash to a contractor without a written agreement, you are taking a risk as your money is not secure. Although such contractors will give you various assurances, eventually they may turn their back when the time comes to obtain the necessary permits or during inspections. Even the warranties on different products may not be legitimate if a licensed contractor does not set up those things.
In addition, if you hire an unlicensed or cagey contractor for your project, it is likely that he or she will do a sub-standard work that may lead to safety and health problems later. Moreover, if a contractor is not licensed and insured you may confront several other problems. For instance, it one of such contractor's staff is not adequately trained and suffers injuries on the work site or damages your or your neighbor's property, your home owner's insurance policy will not provide you indemnity in such cases and you may be held responsible for the entire mess. As a result, you may even have to compensate the worker as well as pay for the damages.
When you pay a contractor in cash without having a written agreement, you are not likely to have any legal option if anything goes wrong or the job is not completed to your satisfaction or the contractor walk away without completing the project. In fact, in the absence of a written contract, it is not only difficult for you to prove that you had paid him or her money, but also establish that the contractor was actually there! Worse still, it is possible that even after you have paid the contractor in cash in full, you may be surprised to find that he or she has not paid for the materials used in the repair or renovation work at your home or have not paid the laborers. In such situations you may be held responsible for clearing all the outstanding bills. Therefore, it is essential that you always deal in a legal as well as dependable manner and always have a written agreement with the contractor. Apart from providing security for your money, this will leave you without any worries or apprehensions.
Remember, it is always necessary to have a comprehensive written contract between you and the contractor you are engaging for the renovation or repair of your home. This is essential irrespective of the size of the project you have at hand. Even if your project is not substantial or worth great significance, you should ensure that you have a written contract with the contractor. This is essential for your protection as well as peace of mind.
Once your project is complete, the contractor is likely to ask you to sign a certificate of completion that will denote that the work has been completed by the contractor to your satisfaction. Although the work may have been finished, never sign such a document without inspecting the work meticulously. In case some minor part of the work is incomplete and the contractor has to return to finish the job, you may sign the document later, sign the document and make a mention of the unfinished work and, if you think it is proper, keep back some part of the payment equivalent to the incomplete job. On the contrary, if you hire a professional contractor for your project, he or she will offer you a warranty on the job completed by them and will always come back if there is something wrong.
Usually, there are three kinds of holdbacks in matters pertaining to home renovation and repairs with hired contractors. Each of these three types of holdbacks is discussed briefly here.
When your project begins and as work picks up momentum, you will be meeting the contractor and his or her staff quite frequently. Remember, your work will progress smoothly and better if there is reciprocated respect and if you combine forces with them. Whenever you come across the contractor, talk to him or her in order to learn how things are moving as well as ask them if you can be of any help to them. Ask them what they need from you. For instance, they may require the driveway to be vacant in order to enable the delivery to get the new bathtub or other materials. However, it is important not to call them very often as this might bother them or they may think you are interfering too much in their work. The best way to handle things smoothly is to prepare a list of all that you want to know and ask the contractor at a time when it is convenient for both or both have some free time at hand to discuss matters.
Although you may have a clear and comprehensive contract with the contractor regarding the project, there may still be occasional disputes and these may take place for a variety of reasons. Remember, disputes and disagreements are natural and may occur any time despite the best efforts of both parties involved. Hence, having a fine communiqué with the contractor will help you immensely in resolving any difference that you may have with him or her. Whenever there is any dispute or disagreement, the initial step should be to sit down together and discuss the issue peacefully with a view to find a solution to the problem that will be acceptable to both parties. In fact, initiating such an action is not only the best, fastest as well as the least expensive method to solve any problem or dispute, but it is also the most agreeable method.
Always try to be sensible and understanding and never react excessively if anything goes wrong. Give the other party adequate time to respond to your queries. At the same time, bear in mind that there are several things like bad climatic conditions as well as backordered elements, which may often holdup your project, but neither of them within the control of the contractor. Hence, instead of making an issue out of everything, you need to give them some flexibility in completing the project.
In case, neither of these methods helps you to resolve the dispute with your contractor, you may adopt the dispute resolution approach or invite arbitrators who have been acknowledged in your contract with the contractor to help resolve the differences. Usually, the help of architects and construction arbitrators is sought to settle these kinds of disagreements.
However, if all the methods discussed above fail to resolve your dispute with the contractor and things really appear to be heading towards a collision affecting the progress of your project, you may as well decide to cancel the contract. Hence, it is always prudent to incorporate a termination clause in the agreement. In the event of cancelling a contract, you may have to pay a hefty amount as compensation to the contractor. Thus, it is always better to consent on the penalty you need to pay the contractor in the even of cancelling the contract before you begin work on the project.
When the project is complete to a large extent or completed and you find that some of the job done by the contractor does not comply with the local construction or building standards, submit a written statement to the suitable inspection department and also send a copy of the report to your contractor. In the event of the work failing to comply with the building code requisites, it is the duty of the contract to get the work done again at his or her expenditure. In addition, wherever relevant, you may also report inferior quality work or performance and unacceptable business practices to the concerned government department which had granted a business license to the contractor.
The government these days is very conscious as well as active vis-à-vis protecting the interests of the consumers. As a result, there are numerous laws safeguarding the interests of the consumers. Normally, the consumer relations departments in the provinces and territories govern the consumer protection laws. These regulations are useful in resolving problems and disputes between you and your consumer. Most of the times, making a phone call to these authorities is sufficient for them to initiate necessary actions, but submitting a comprehensive letter mentioning the names, dates, addresses and the nature of dispute in details are needed before they can initiate any action.
Once you have made a phone call to your local consumer protection authorities or send them a detailed letter regarding your dispute with the contractor, they may assign an inspector to scrutinize the work completed by the contractor. In most cases, the report submitted by the inspector to the authorities is enough for them to initiate necessary actions. However, if the dispute is of a complex nature and the inspector's report is not sufficient for the consumer protection authorities to take any action, the office of the consumer protection may offer to mediate between you and your contractor. The powers the government has entrusted the consumer protection office with is an effective inducement to make the disputing parties arrive at a settlement. In the event of the mediation by the consumer protection office failing to settle your dispute with the contractor and legal action seems indispensible, the local consumer protection authorities will provide you counsel and support in this regard too.
In addition to the consumer protection office, even the Better Business Bureau, a supervising organization sustained by the business community itself, also deals with consumer grievances and offers mediation between the disputing parties and endeavors to provide a just settlement. Before seeking legal action, you may approach this body too to amicably resolve your dispute with your contractor.
In case, it is absolutely necessary to initiate legal action to settle your dispute with the contractor, you may take him or her to the small claims court where you will not be required to hire the services of a lawyer to represent your case. Besides, when you move the small claims court, you are also free from the impediments and delays usually associated with the formal courts of law. The atmosphere at the small claims courts may be hassle-free and informal, but the decisions taken by it are mandatory for the parties concerned. It may be mentioned here that the magnitude of claims you may make in a small claims court entirely depends on the province or territory of your residence. If you wish to collect more information regarding the functioning of the small claims court you may approach the courthouse in your locality and it will guide you to the office that deals with small claim cases.
While hiring a contractor for your project, it is essential to ensure that the potential contractor possesses workers' recompense and a third-party liability insurance for each and every person engaged in the job and the damage they may possibly bring about. Usually, $2 million is the insurance coverage benchmark, but the amount may be much less if the contractor is working in the rural areas. If you wish to learn more about the standard in your area, approach the local home builders' association and they will provide you with all requisite data. Never take the contractor's word regarding indemnity aspects as the gospel truth, but ask him or her to show you the certificate so that you may check if they really have requisite insurance coverage and it is up-to-date. Also, never agree to or take for granted any accountability of the contractor or any of his or her other men in the business.
As far as your legal responsibilities are concerned, your home owners' insurance policy will perhaps provide you indemnity while the project is in progress and being undertaken by a licensed renovator. However, in such circumstances it is essential that you inform your insurance provider of any type of renovation work undertaken by you beforehand. It is important to note that in case you are performing the task of the contractor yourself and engaging people from the business to do the work, your home owners' insurance policy will not provide you indemnity automatically. In this case, you will be required to ask your insurance firm to provide you a temporary insurance coverage that possibly requires you to pay a small amount of additional premium. Nevertheless, even in this case, ensure that all the people from the business whose services you are engaging for the project have their individual insurance coverage.
First things first
Looking for a contractor
Ascertain the cost - get quotes and proposals
The agreement ought to incorporate
Liabilities of the contractor
Accountabilities of the homeowner