Many licensed contractors are hardworking, honest and competent. That being said everyone probably knows someone else with a horror story in regards to a home remodeling or room addition. Adding a room to a home or remodeling a kitchen can be an expensive endeavour. This article serves as shortened guide for some of the things a consumer can do to avoid costly mistakes when dealing with a contractor.
Plan Out Your Project
Planning is the first, and one of the most important parts of the renovation and remodeling process. Homeowners must ask themselves, "What do I want done?". This may appear as a simple question, but knowing exactly what you want done will make it easier to to discern the finished outcome and ensure accurate bids from contractors. If you have thorough and realistic plans you can avoid many of the headaches associated with remodeling.
Selecting A Contractor
If you are looking to have more than $1,000 or more worth of work done on your home, a valid Virginia Contractor's License is required. Laws are in place to protect the consumer when they work with a validly licensed contractor. In addition, you become eligible to receive monetary compensation from the Contractor Transaction Recovery Fund in the event of improper or dishonest conduct on the part of the contractor. Unlicensed contractors are illegal and as a result you will have little to no recourse against an unlicensed contractor.
Over 40 different types of contractor licenses exist. General building contractors usually oversee the scope of the work and supervisor subcontractors that are licensed for specific jobs and tasks. An example of this would be if you are interested in roofing or plumbing work, you can hire a contract specifically licensed in the those fields, but a kitchen remodeling will require plumbing, electrical and carpentry work. A general contractor would be better suited in this case.
One of the best ways to select a general contractor is to speak with previous clients and seek out personal recommendations.
You will also want to ensure that your selected contractor is properly licensed. You can contact the Board for Contractors at (804) 367-8511, or visit www.dpor.virginia.gov to make sure that the contractor is properly licensed appropriately for the work you require. You will also be able to find past complaints and disciplinary actions from the Contractors Board there.
Another important step is checking the contractors references. Skilled contractors will be proud to take credit for their work. It may be possible in some cases to go out and actually view their completed work and speak to the past clients.
Here are some helpful questions to ask previous clients:
Did the contractor keep to the schedule and the contact terms?
Were you pleased with the work and the way it was done?
Did the contractor listen to you when you had a problem, and seem concerned about resolving it?
Did the contractor willingly make any necessary corrections?
Ask the contractor for the address of his or her business location and business telephone number, and verify them with the Board for Contractors. A contractor who operates a business out of the back of a truck with a cellular telephone may be difficult to find to complete a job or fix something that has gone wrong after the bill is paid. Don’t be fooled or pressured by a smooth-talking salesperson. Take the time and effort to make sure that the person or business doing your home improvement is going to perform in a professional manner.
A bid is defined as an offer to do work. It is advisable to gt at least three written bids or estimates using identical plans and specifications so you can compare price and contractors. It is important to get at least three bids, and do not automatically go with the lowest. Make sure that every bid you receive is based on the same set of specifications. Discuss the bids in detail with every contractor and understand any variation in price. Higher prices may be worth it, if the materials are higher quality with greater craftsmanship. In our kitchen remodeling example, prefabricated cabinets are going to be much cheaper than custom carpentry. If a bid is substantially lower than the others , it most likely indicates a mistake on the end of a contractor, or even dishonest practices that can lead to a dispute or over charges down the road.
Anything that you sign can potentially be used by a contractor as authorization to begin work on your project. This includes any bid or estimate you sign. Be careful to not sign anything until you completely understand what you are signing and agree to all the terms. It is important to not assume anything and be sure to fully understand the contract and the scope of the project. You will want to discuss the contract, plans and specifications with an attorney in some cases as well.
Virginia law requires all licensed contractors to provide a written contract for residential work. The best way to stop problems from happening is with a thorough contract. A properly written contract will protect both you and the contractor. Everything should be in writing, be specific as possible and ensure that all oral promises and guarantees are included. You should expect a down payment but not for the majority of the work upon the start of the job. Never sign a blank document or contract and be sure to get a copy of the contract immediately upon signing the document.
The contract should specify all materials, quality, quantity, weight, color, size, brand name and any other specific details about the materials. The contract should included everything that you feel is important to the job, including cleanup and debris removal or even saving lumber for firewood if applicable.
If you chose to add work, substitute materials or equipment or change the completion date, ensure that those additions are clearly worded and signed as change orders to the original contract.
Describing the Job
It is important to be as specific as possible when describing tasks. "Install oak kitchen cabinets manufactured by Company A, Model 1, as per the plan." is a superb description while "Install cabinets" is not acceptable. It is also important to include the start and completion dates in the contact.
Some contractors may set up what is called a Draw Schedule. The draw schedule is a payment plan that details how the funds for the project will be disbursed to the contractor. If a bank is involved the back will use the draw schedule to disperse money to both the home owner and the contractor. Draw schedules allow a contractor to collect money as parts of the project are completed. As a homeowner it is not your responsibility to provide working capital for the contractor, you should only pay as work is being done and completed. The monetary amount and quantity of disbursements will change depending on the scope of the project.