This is the fourth and final article in our series on selecting a contractor for your home improvement project. In our first article of the series, we discussed how to decide which contractors to solicit bids from. In our second, we talked about how to evaluate bids to determine which one was best for you. Our third in the series was on negotiating a contract that protects your interests.
How to work with your contractor before, during and after your project
This article discusses how to work with your contractor during the project to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible and you have a good working relationship with your contractor throughout. I’m going to give them a brief overview in this article, and then break them down in detail for our next series.
Stage One; before project starts
Once your contract is signed but before your contractor is scheduled to begin working, there are several things you should plan to do.
Obtain contractor’s liability policy
Request a copy of your contractor’s liability policy with you and your property listed as Certificate Holder. This will not cost your contractor anything, and provides evidence to you that his insurance is up to date, just in case. On large projects over $100,000, it might be a good idea to request to be added as an actual Additional Insured to his policy for the duration of the project. But this will cost your contractor a little money, so it’s possible he would ask you to reimburse him for this expense.
Confirm building permit is posted
Ensure that a building permit is posted. Depending on where you live and the terms of your contract, either you or your contractor will be responsible to actually apply for and receive a building permit. Make sure this step is not skipped, as the last thing you want or need is unnecessary slowdowns from the local building department putting a stop work order on your job.
Begin picking out your allowances
In many cases, your contract for home improvements or a new build will include budgets for things like siding, lighting, flooring, cabinets, and such things. It is then your responsibility to pick out the actual items you want used in your home. It is a good idea to start that process immediately, as many things you may pick will have lead times to get ordered in for your job. Waiting to the last minute to pick out your allowance items may very well result in unnecessary delays.
Stage Two; during construction
Scheduled walkthrough inspections
If you followed our advice in the third article in this series, your contract will specify a starting and completion schedule for your project. But of course there will be some variability and questions that may come up. It is a good idea to have a regularly scheduled once a week time for you and your builder or his foreman to meet on the job, walk the project, and answer any questions you have. As a general rule, it is not a good idea to try to give direction to your contractor’s workers or subcontractors but to relay any concerns you have directly to your contractor. Having a regularly scheduled time to meet both keeps you from “pestering” your contractor and gives you plenty of “facetime” to address any issues in a timely manner.
On larger projects, your contract should specify exactly how much money is due at each stage of the job. You should be prepared, either personally or through your bank, to make those payments in a timely manner. However, NEVER agree to pay money in advance of the previously negotiated schedule, and don’t pay for work that is incomplete or poorly done with promises to “fix it” in the future. It is in both you and your contractor’s interest to only pay for work that is actually complete to the level specified. This takes some common sense on your part of course, as there will always be minor quality control issues such as drywall nicks that occur during the process that your contractor takes care of after the heavy work is done as a matter normal work.
Stage Three; after completion
After all the work is substantially complete, and before the final payment is issued by you, there should be a “final walkthrough” with your builder, where you go over the entire project. At this stage the work should be 100% done, so any quality control issues at all should be addressed at this time. As a general rule you should always have a minimum of 5-10% of the total value of the project still due at this stage so your contractor has plenty of motivation to take care of any concerns you have. Never release the final payment until you are totally satisfied with all the work.
Request warranty information
Either during the final walkthrough or at some stage while you are still in regular contact with your builder, you should request and receive any warranty literature provided by your material suppliers, as well as a written copy of your builder’s warranty and warranty claim procedures. The reality is that even the very best builders still have the occasional callback, and the process for getting any work done during your warranty period should be spelled out to you in an easy to understand format.
Obtain receipt after payment
After you make your final payment, it is a good idea to get a “paid in full” receipt from your contractor. It is not a super common experience, but it has happened where a builder has come back after the final payment was accepted to ask for additional money for a change or extra he claims was forgotten to be billed for. To avoid this possible headache, request that your builder double check his books if necessary and give you a “paid in full” receipt when you make your final payment.
And that’s it! Your project is completed. If you are happy with your work, don’t forget to tell your friends and family about the experience. Contractors love referrals, and your friends and family likely need to know who they can trust.
This article concludes our series on “Selecting a Contractor”.