We have done a lot of DIY on our home projects, but have also done our fair share of contracting out work. Some things are (usually) better left to skilled craftspeople. In doing so, we have learned a few things about the ins and outs and ups and downs of working with contractors. You might have heard horror stories told on news stations about contractors leaving projects unfinished, suing, or destroying homes because of arguments with the homeowners -- that is the worst of the worst! Contractors can be great, trusted resources if you do your due diligence and find the right ones to work with. So how will you find the "right ones" and how do you know to run away from the wrong ones? Here are a few tips based on our past experiences.
1. When it comes to payment, never pay in full before getting services completed (and inspected when needed).
Make sure in your contract it is clearly written that the final payment (50/50 split to 30/70 split) will be paid only when all the work is complete and fully inspected. We learned this the hard way when we had windows installed. We made our final payment to the company before our inspection and our windows FAILED inspection. The company was not getting back to us on a date to come out and re-install the windows up to code and we ended up having to dispute and cancel the payment with our credit card before they finally came out and (eventually) made it right. It was a huge headache and we were lucky we paid on a credit card that took our side on the matter.
2. Make sure the contractors are fully insured and licensed.
It may not seem like a huge deal, but if something goes wrong with the installation or someone or something gets hurt during the process, then it turns into an ENOURMOUS deal. Our experience with this was when we had a hardwood floor installed and went with the installer that the store recommended. We didn't ask many questions or ask for references, because we assumed the store had reputable contractors. After the floor was installed it buckled within seven days and was completely ruined! When we reached out to the contractor to tell them what happened they refused to help or refund because they would have gone bankrupt due to their lack of insurance in doing so. Lucky for us, we had went through a big box retailer for the materials and since they had given us the contractor, they eventually took responsibility for it and refunded us for the materials. It was a long and daunting process with a lot of stress involved. In the end we still had to remove the hardwood ourselves, which is something I never wish on my worst enemy to have to do! So double check paperwork on insurance and licenses, never assume!
3. Get a fixed bid or if you are doing work on an hourly basis have a clear contract laid out.
Again, never assume and always have things in writing. We learned this again, the hard way. (Apparently, we love doing things the hard way.) Our contractor was doing work by the hour and was giving us estimated times of how long projects would take. They sounded good verbally to us, but once the hours were tallied by his workers we were given a bill that blew us over. Before anyone starts work on your home make sure you have a contract detailing the fixed bid and what is included in that statement of work. If you are doing work by the hour, ensure they touch base with you on a regular basis so you know well before they get close to your max budget.
4. Get references and Google the business and people in it. Ask for references, at least three of them. Take the time to call or email them and ask what the contractor did best and if they could change one thing with the experience what would it have been. Google them. Google is a great tool for wanna-be private investigators, like myself. Google owners names, check their social media accounts, BBB account, comments in social media pictures, etc. It will give you a good idea of who you might be working with behind that smile and handshake.
Finding the right skilled contractors that offer fair prices can be tough, but once you find one you will be so happy! Besides the horror stories above, we have also worked with some great contractors that have offered us priceless advice with our renovations, honest and fair contracts, and amazing work we could have never DIYed. Just do your homework -- you will be glad you did!