Pulse: Style: Marketplace: Contractor Control

I’m planning a home renovation. What do I need to do to avoid being ripped off?

1. Get multiple bids for any home project. These should be in writing and based on the same work, materials and timeframe. Ask for references, and visit previously completed projects. Check the contractor’s complaint history with the Better Business Bureau. A quick stop at your local courthouse may also reveal outstanding judgments. Verify that the contractor has insurance to cover property damage and liability, as well as the appropriate licenses to work in your community.

2. Draw up a contract once you’ve picked a contractor. It should begin with the basics: the contractor’s name, license, telephone number and address. (You can do a drive-by to make certain the contractor works from where he says he does.) Don’t rely on oral promises—get everything in writing, including dates the work will begin and end as well as a breakdown of labor and material costs. If you expect things like certain brands or colors, that should be in writing, too. The contract should explain whether work has a full warranty, a limited warranty, or no warranty at all. A clause should be included that says all changes must be agreed to in writing and that the contractor is responsible for applying for necessary permits in his name. Never sign a contract that is blank or only partially filled in.

3. Never pay the full amount of the job up front. Instead, make a small down payment, and have a schedule written into your contract by which payments will be made only at the completion of each phase of the project. Finally, add a release-of-lien clause to your contract. This will offer protection in the event the contractor doesn’t pay subcontractors or suppliers.   

Have a question for Jim Donovan? E-mail him at donovan@kyw.com.