If you are looking to do some home renovations, you should be very careful who you choose to hire as your contractor and how you structure your payments. It is terrible to hear the horror stories about people not getting what they have agreed to or paid for and disputes that spill into court can end up costing far more in real dollars and headaches than if you took some proactive steps beforehand.
Here are some tips when selecting your contractor, and when dealing with your contractor.
Ask your Neighbours
Talking to your neighbours
If you are looking for landscaping work, painting, eavestroughs, driveway paving, or other routine work, ask your neighbors for recommendations – and ask to see the work. Typically people are very happy with the contractors they hire and will tell you a good story. You should ask them what price they paid and whether there was any delay in starting or completing the work, and if there was any follow up required – and if so, how the company / contractor responded.
Double check your reviews
Your neighbors are more trustworthy sources of information as you can see them face to face and they will show you the work. Unless you are concerned that there is a kickback to your neighbors for referrals or that the contractor your neighbor recommends is also his brother in law, your neighbors are more reliable sources of information than the anonymous postings on review websites. First, someone may post an unhappy review in an attempt to force the contractor to accept less money for the work to avoid the posting. Second, the review may be fake. It takes very little time to make a fake email account and write posts about a contractor. A contractor may make fake reviews him/herself, or hire someone. There are websites where fake reviews can be generated for very little cost. If you suspect something is amiss, you should consider the grammar and story behind the post. Conversely, a competitor may write negative reviews which are unwarranted to drive business his or her way. Further, there are some review websites that hold businesses ransom and demand a fee to post the good reviews first or to balance the postings. As such, while review websites can be helpful, you must take them with extreme caution.
See if they have any additional references they can give you
If you cannot find a neighbor or friend who required the specific type of contractor you are seeking, you should ask the potential contractors for a few references of current or very recent work. Any reference for more than 2/3 years ago is not appropriate as your contractor may have had a different team, or may have encountered financial troubles which will greatly affect your job.
Have a written agreement
This does not need to be drafted by a lawyer or use extreme legalease. In fact, if you are not a lawyer, this is not the time to pretend to be one, as contracts are interpreted against the drafter (i.e. you if you write it) unless otherwise specified. The contract basically needs to include the parties names (including the corporate name of the contractor if one), the date, the description of the work to be done, and the purchase price. There is nothing wrong with including pictures of the property before and what the expected completion will look likeIf you are undergoing a renovation that is very costly to you, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer to draft your agreement. An ounce of prevention, as they say.
Find out where your money is going
Do not pay large amounts to contractors up front. They may get discounts at stores for being a contractor, and if that is the case, and it is expensive material (even if not necessarily expensive to you), inquire as to the price at the store and go with the contractor and pay yourself with the contractor present or issue a bank draft in the name of the store. Large amounts of money, apparently to purchase materials, may not go where they are intended and you will be in a sore position to get your money back, because, as they say, you cannot get blood from a stone. And, even if you would like to go to small claims court, if the contractor is impecunious, you will have spent good money after bad filing the claim and paying for legal services. Avoid this by only paying 10% of the total price down and paying as many companies directly as you can. While no one wants to feel that others do not trust them, you can explain to your contractor that you want the relationship to go as smoothly as possible, and you (or your friend) has been burned in the past and this is your new practice. If your contractor is upset with this scenario, this contractor probably is not the person you want to hire.
Try to not get mad and find a neutral party member
If you are at an impasse, consider seeking out a neutral third party mediator to settle any disputes. This can be more cost effective than going to court, and will likely be resolved much faster.
These tips should help you in selecting and dealing with a contractor. It is always better to have an umbrella when it is sunny than not have one in the rain. Best of luck. If you have any tips on hiring and dealing with a contractor, let us know in the comments!