Top 10 Tips for Working with Contractors

Reblogger Eric Michael
Real Estate Agent with Remerica Integrity, Realtors®, Northville, MI

Working with Contractors.

There are a lot of "shady" people out there. When you're hiring a contractor to do work around your house, no matter how small the job or how "big" their name, this Top 10 list is a great way to keep from getting hosed!

PS. I have a couple of great contractors that I'd highly recommend. If you need their name and number, just let me know.


Original content by John Mulkey

 Okay, so the housing crash has left you trapped in a home that no longer meets your needs. The kitchen is outdated, the bathrooms too small and you’d like a nice outdoor space. What do you do? The obvious choice is to remodel, but you’ve heard horror stories about the mess, the costs and the hassle.


Thousands of homeowners are in the same predicament; they can’t sell and they’re fearful of trying to upgrade their existing home. However, remodeling doesn’t have to be the headache or financial hazard that many envision. The key is to do your research, to have a definite plan and to hire the best contractors possible. And that’s where the following list can help. Having worked with contractors for four decades, I’ve learned what to expect and where the dangers lie.


Here are my top 10 tips for working with contractors that will help homeowners manage their project while avoiding the pitfalls often associated with remodeling.


1.  Have a written plan that describes exactly what the project involves. Be as specific as possible, and make drawings if possible.


2.  When seeking a contractor, get recommendations from friends, neighbors or others who are familiar with a contractor’s work. Then, get at least 3 additional references from the contractor for work recently completed. If referrals are not possible, interview 3 or more contractors and check references.  You should also have the contractor provide a list of suppliers from which they purchase materials and call them to confirm that the contractor is in good standing. (Do not base the final decision upon price alone; the best and sometimes least expensive choice may not be the one with the lowest bid)


3.  In those locations where contractor licensing is required, verify that the contractor’s license is current.


4.  Have the contractor supply a copy of their (current and valid) workers’ compensation and general liability insurance certificates. The insurance carrier for the contractor should provide you with the certificates. DO NOT accept copies supplied by the contractor. 


5.  Have a written agreement with the contractor that spells out exactly what the contractor is to do. Failure to demand specifics can result in disappointment and conflict. 


The agreement should include the following:

           A.  Contact information for the contractor including a physical address from which they

           conduct business.         

           B.  A complete description of all work to be completed.          

           C.  A materials list, specifying the types of materials to be used, equipment types and

           ratings, fixtures and all other items supplied by the contractor.      

           D.  A statement of warranty describing the term of the warranty and what is and is not


           E.  A payment schedule describing the exact terms for payment. On large jobs, payments

           should  be made in stages based upon a percentage of work completed.Smaller jobs may

           require only one or two payments. (I would generally avoid   doing business with a

           contractor who demands an up-front payment. If their financial condition is so precarious

           that they lack funds to begin the job, they expose the owner to the risk that they may be

           incapable of completing it.)          

           F.  Beginning and completion dates and daily start times for the project. While most

           contactors may be unwilling to agree to a penalty clause tied to a completion date, having

           them commit provides some incentive as well as protection for the owner.

           G.  A statement describing the contractor’s responsibility for job site clean-up. In those

           projects involving an occupied home, daily clean-up may be necessary. Clean-up

           agreements must be tailored to the specific job and should describe the clean-up needs


           H.  A statement that all permits and inspection fees are the responsibility of the


           I.  A statement that the contractor will provide a signed lien waiver when the job is

           completed and BEFORE final payment is made.If the contractor will use subcontractors

           to do some of the work, lienwaivers should be completed by each sub. These forms help

           protect owners from the liability created when unscrupulous contractors do not pay subs

           or suppliers. 


6.  Avoid making verbal requests and do not accept verbal commitments from your contractor. Remember the most important rule of contracts: “IF IT ISN’T IN WRITING . . . IT ISN’T.”


7.  Make certain you understand the contractor’s policy regarding change orders.   


8.  Do not make advance payments, regardless of the contractor’s excuses. Pay per the agreement and only for work completed.


9.  Communicate with the contractor as the work progresses and ask questions when things don’t look/seem right. If problems arise, try to avoid conflict, but be firm in your expectations and requirements.


10.  Keep up your part of the bargain, and don’t make unrealistic demands. Don’t interfere with the work in progress and keep children and pets away from the construction area. Make payments per the contract’s stipulations and try to make the job as easy for the contractor as possible. Doing so greatly increases the likelihood that the job will progress smoothly and that the end result will match your expectations.


In the end, you must be aware that remodeling sometimes involves an element of compromise.  Those who can be flexible and who can restrain from demanding “perfection,” will be rewarded with a project that is both practical and enjoyable, and one that may increase the potential for future appreciation.

Those considering remodeling may find the following article helpful:

Unable To Move Up? Raise The Roof


The Housing Guru: The expert source for all your housing questions—now featuring daily updates of Today’s Housing News


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Cheryl Holy
Rooms Reborn Certified Homestager - Waco, TX
Home staging & Redesign

Thank you so much for sharing this information.  A lot of times I am working with clients that have to employ contractors in order to get their homes ready for sale.  This checklist is something I can give them and the contract will be especially helpful. So far, I have always had positive experiences with the contractors that I have worked with but I probably should knock on wood having stated that.

Mar 09, 2012 04:37 AM #1
Eric Michael
Remerica Integrity, Realtors®, Northville, MI - Livonia, MI
Metro Detroit Real Estate Professional 734.564.1519

Cheryl, I prefer to think having everything in writing isn't because you don't trust the contractor, but to make everyone feel better about the whole situation.

Mar 09, 2012 04:39 AM #2
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Eric Michael

Metro Detroit Real Estate Professional 734.564.1519
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