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Tips for Working with Contractors

Posted by Patricia Rattray on November 4, 2022

Great home improvement contractors are in short supply in CT and NY. Learning how to choose the right contractor and work effectively with them is a good use of time during the winter months. Since the most talented contractors are always busy, start planning and scheduling your Spring projects now. This will also help minimize delays due to global supply chain shortages.

Tips for Choosing a Contractor

  • Make sure your home improvement contractor is insured and request a copy of the policy. Delay the contract signing until you have this in hand and make sure the policy includes workers compensation and general liability coverage. General liability coverage is required regardless of whether the contractor has employees. Once you select a contractor, make sure you are named on their insurance policy as an “Interested Party”. This means you will be notified if the policy is altered or cancelled while they are working for you.
  • Verify the contractor’s License. A CT home improvement license will have a registration number, contractors name & address, effective date, and expiration date. Check this information against their driver’s license to make sure the information matches. Also, contact the BBB & the CT Department of Consumer Protection to confirm the authenticity and validity of the home improvement license.
  • Take a fresh look at how you view experience and references as they can be misleading if not considered and applied correctly. A contractor can have 30 years of experience and have no experience with the project that you are engaging him or her to do. Similarly, references can be great for a variety of projects that have no resemblance to the project that you need done. Ask for 3 references that are recent and similar to the type of project you are planning. Also, ask your contractor to list the last 10 projects he or she performed. This list will give you an idea of the types of projects they have completed most recently so you can decide if the experience they have is relevant enough for you. If a contractor only worked on roofing and siding in the past year, you might be hesitant to hire him for a bath remodel.

Sign a Win-Win Contract

  • Contracts should be signed before any payments are made and before any work is started. The contract should also have clauses to satisfy all parties. Get the contract, print it and read it well in advance of the meeting to discuss and sign it. A reputable contractor will give you sufficient time to study it and ask questions before you sign. Read the contract thoroughly and write questions in the margins. Feel free to ask the contractor to revise sections that are confusing or inadequate. As a homeowner, you have every right to protect your interests by requesting changes or additional language.
  • Payment schedules should be in line with the materials ordered and the work completed. Avoid payment structures where money owed to the contractor well exceeds the value of work rendered. Payments should be due upon the completion of a phase (including any punch lists) and not the starting of a phase. When permits are required request a copy and make sure final payments are not made until the town inspectors have approved the work. Initial Payments should be minimal and also cover initial upfront material costs. Contractors will request payments to buy materials, but then require little else until the work is complete. Your initial deposit should not be more than 10% of the total value of the project, except in cases where luxury or custom items must be purchased.
  • Make sure the contract has language stating that all new work will be done to code.
  • List all contractor provided merchandise in the contract. A detailed proposal should specifically describe each piece of material or merchandise opposed to just a generic description. Make sure you approve of the level of quality of materials that will be provided. Contractors have many options when it comes to these typical items:
    1. Plywood: Quality options cost $26.00 per sheet compared to low quality wafer boards that can be 50% less expensive.
    2. Wood Interior Trim can be in solid pine or in a lower quality MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard which can swell.
    3. Interior Doors can have a solid or hollow core. A solid core door is much more expensive.
    4. Roof Shingles can come with a 20-year warranty or lifetime protection.
  • Don’t assume any room features will be included just because they are typical in your area. Homeowners often assume that certain features are implied by the phrase “all work will be done to code.” This is a common mistake. For example, you might assume that ceiling fixtures are required in a bedroom addition when they are not. Along the same lines, you might think an exhaust fan must be included in a new or remodeled bathroom. This is not a code requirement if there is a window.
  • Make sure the cost of additional services is included in the contract. Examples of these are dumpster rentals, toilet rentals, permits, insurance, licenses, lawn repairs, dumpsters, hauling, electrical light fixtures, taxes, and delivery fees. A section for items not included (excluded items) should be there as well. This would include unforeseen circumstance and items. Examples of these include asbestos, mold, leaks, dry rot, code violations that must be corrected, and other problems that are unknown before walls are opened up.
  • Pay close attention to start and completion dates. Stipulate a penalty amount for each day that passes beyond the promised start and completion dates.
  • Try to include all wish list items (that you are not sure you will do) in the initial contract when possible. You are in a better position to negotiate the potential cost of these items before the work begins.

Prices are Not Always What They Seem

  • Beware of the lowest bid. This usually means that the bid does not include all the necessary items for a complete job or materials of the lowest quality are included. Compare bids that have the same scope and the same specified materials.
  • Avoid agreeing to discounted hourly rates. This might seem like a good deal but in the end, you might pay just as much since more hours are estimated or the work might not be up to par, leading to additional expenses. You generally get what you pay for, so be skeptical if rates are not consistent with your market.
  • Be hesitant to accept timing promises that are unrealistic. If you are reviewing three bids and one bid indicates the contractor can do the work in much less time than their competitors, make sure to ask them how this is possible and if there are any contingencies that would alter the estimated timing.

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