By Jamie Spence | Contributor
Kathleen and Ted* hired a contractor they found via Facebook to do some remodeling work on their home. They saw some recommendation comments, a few photos of prior work, and that they had a few mutual friends. Feeling pretty secure about moving forward, they signed his contract and paid their 50% deposit. Two months later, the work was half finished and their contractor was nowhere to be found. Even worse, neither was their money. Their attorney advised them that it would cost more to pursue legal recourse than it would to take the loss, so they reluctantly gave up and began the search for a new contractor. With reduced funds, they had to scale back their plans quite a bit to move forward.
Stories like this are extremely common. Unlike many other states, the state of Texas does not require you to pass an exam or submit any paperwork to become a general contractor. In the past, home improvement contractors had to register their businesses with the state, but this is no longer mandated. As a result, anyone who would like to do general contracting work can set up a social media page or put a vinyl sign on their vehicle and “open for business.” These “Chuck in a truck” contractors can be very hit-or-miss: sometimes they do great work, sometimes they do shoddy work. And sometimes, they disappear entirely, along with your money.
How can you avoid this happening to you? Here are five things to consider when hiring a home remodeling contractor:
1. Find out how long they’ve been in business.
Look for business with an established track record that can be verified. Do they have employees who have been with the company for years, or are they using day laborers? Can they provide references from previous clients? Do they have a current, professional website? Do they have reviews online? While giving a new contractor a chance isn’t a bad thing in theory, unless you know them personally and can attest to their experience and character, it’s safer to go with a contractor who has been in business for a good amount of time. What qualifies as a good amount of time is really up to you, but regardless of whether it’s a year or a decade, make sure you can get a list of references with whom you can confirm the quality of their work.
2. Ask questions regarding their standards.
Having standards for their work sets apart the professionals from the amateurs. Contractors who know their industry will be able to tell you about what kind of quality control they exercise over their projects. If a contractor gives you a “deer in the headlights” look when you ask about their standards, you would be smart to keep looking.
3. Talk time-frames.
Delays on materials and supplies are common right now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Items that can usually be obtained in a few days can sometimes take weeks. That said, you do not want your project in a holding state indefinitely. Find out what kind of time-frame you can reasonably expect. You may even wish to request a time-frame contingency in your contract with the contractor.
4. Be sure about insurance.
Always choose a contractor who carries insurance on their employees.
5. Find out what preparations you would need to make before the project starts and what responsibilities you will have in the process.
Find out the details before you begin the project. Certain types of home remodeling work require that improvements be made in a particular order. Others can be done at any time. Some remodeling improvements can be done out of a recommended order, but would to cost you more to do in that way. It’s possible that you may have responsibilities to handle or preparations to make before work can begin on your project. For some types of remodeling, you may need to do nothing at all. Lori Yeary, Liberty Glass & Mirror co-owner, tells her clients to feel confident that they can relax and rest assured her company will exceed their expectations.
No matter what kind of project you have in mind, you want to work with a contractor you can trust. This person or their staff will be in or around your home for an extended length of time. In addition, you could be living with the results of their work for many years, so you want to receive quality improvements. It is worth the investment of time needed to find a contractor whose reputation for skill, experience, and attention to detail will get the job done right.
*names changed for privacy