ON HIRING HOME REPAIR HELP...
Who To Call When It's Time To Cry
And Uncle Harry Is Out Of Town (Or Out To Lunch)
PROTECT YOURSELF BY CONTROLLING THE JOB!
By having a good contract, you have established the rules by which your
project will be done. You and the contractor now have a framework to do
business. However, "stuff" happens and you may find that the
contract may need to be flexed a little to keep the wheels of progress turning.
Ever hear the expression, "Money is power"? This should be
your mantra in dealing with a home improvement contractor. By knowing how
your money is being spent and by controlling the flow of money from your pocket
to his you control the job. So a few simple rules to keep the power
in your pocket...
- Minimize up-front payments...
Some articles on this topic insist that any up front payment is
unwarranted. I think this is an unrealistic position. First, if
the contractor must purchase custom materials for your job, it is reasonable
for him to want payment in advance, especially if these materials cannot be
returned if you change your mind. To protect your interests and
pocketbook, you can either let the contractor give you a list and make the
purchases yourself, or let the contractor place the order but you write the
check to the supplier... not the contractor. By controlling the
money, you prevent the unscrupulous contractor from taking your money and
hitting the road... one of the more common consumer complaints.
California law, for example, allows a maximum up front payment of 10%
or $1000.00 on any job. This is a reasonable position. It gives
the contractor some working capital, shows him that you are also committed
to the job, and still keeps monetary control of the job in your hands. If
you live in an area where there are a limited number of quality contractors,
a so-called "seller's market", an upfront payment may be the only
way to lock in a busy contractor. Check with your local or state
government to see if you have similar rules
- Get all job changes in writing
Jobs don't always go smoothly; unexpected things can happen that change
the job. Usually, this means more cost to the homeowner. If you
accept the contractor's explanation of the problem and the cost, make sure
you receive an amended contract or a work order that you and the contractor
sign. It describes the problem, the solution, the particulars of
labor and materials and a payment schedule.
- Only pay for completed work...
Your contract should have a payment schedule. Depending on the
job, you should only make payments that reflect the job's progress, not some
arbitrary timetable. At the half-way point you should have paid
approximately half the cost. Under no circumstances should you pay the
contractor in advance for any work not completed except for 1) the up front
payment mentioned earlier or 2) when there has been a work order signed by
you requiring extra work.
A typical problem situation... contractor approaches homeowner and says that
he is out of money, rubs a tear from his eye and sobs that he needs more
cash to complete the job. The homeowner pays more money and the
contractor disappears. Job not completed, contractor moves on to
another job and the homeowner is left in the lurch. Though it is easy
to be sympathetic to a beleaguered contractor, the fact is that this is a
business transaction, not charity. You can always hire someone to
complete the job... if you have money to do so. Giving that money to
the contractor before completion of the work is asking for trouble.
ENTER THE HONEST CONTRACTOR... STAGE LEFT!!
When I first sent this article to my editor/agent Lin Erickson, this last
section did not exist. Her first response to this article was, "This
is an excellent piece of work... but I believe you have ended this
article on a very anti-contractor note."
And, as is almost always the case, she's absolutely right! I
have been personally involved in hundreds of homeowner nightmares involving
contractors who were irresponsible, lazy, or just downright dishonest. And
so from my perspective it is very easy to get into a negative jag when it comes
to this topic.
Still, the undeniable fact is that the vast majority of contractors are
hardworking, quality craftsmen and businessmen who are trying their best to live
up to the expectations of their clients. They must take responsibility for
materials that arrive late or are defective, subcontractors that don't show up
on time or do low quality work, laborers who become ill (or decide to live off
you and me via unemployment), the whims of Mother
Nature and Big Brother, and Lord knows what other unexpected events. They
must act like politicians in dealing with the local building inspector, psychologists
when dealing with a displaced and inconvenienced homeowner and still, through
all this, keep a positive attitude. Or at least try!
I made a personal decision years ago to not enter the contractor fray and
instead slide into the somewhat less complicated world of the handyman. I
have nothing but respect for the men and women who each and every day improve
the lives and homes of the folks they work for. And you should too.
To read our companion article... "Hire a handyman
and never have to say you're sorry…"click HERE...