Working With Your Contractor; Before You Start

By Jerome Graber,
May 13, 2019
Home | Working With Your Contractor; Before You Start

In this series we will talk about how to partner with the contractor you selected for your home improvement project. Knowing what to expect and how to work with your contractor through three stages - before you start, during construction and after completion - will go a long way towards ensuring you have a satisfying experience and end up with what you were expecting when you started.

Today we will be taking an in depth look at what you should do prior to work actually starting on your home.

Before Project Starts

Request a copy of your contractor’s liability policy with you and your property listed as Certificate Holder.

  1. 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.

  2. Review the policy carefully. One area some contractors try to skimp is that they provide liability coverage for any property damage but do not actually carry workman’s compensation insurance. But workman’s compensation is the more expensive portion of an insurance policy for a reason: the potential expense if someone gets hurt on your property is a greater risk than the cost to repair any damages to your home itself. Insist that all workers on your job must be covered by workman’s compensation insurance before any work commences.

  3. If you have any questions about the quality of the coverage your contractor is providing, your own homeowner’s insurance agent is a good resource for you. It may be a good idea to show him the certificate your contractor provides you just to make totally sure you have adequate coverage.

Ensure that a building permit is posted.

  1. 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.

  2. Occasionally, a contractor will try to get around local permitting and licensing requirements by having the homeowner pull a permit and tell the local building department that they are doing the work themselves. This is a bad idea for two reasons. First of all, if your building department finds out that you lied on your permit application, they may revoke your permit and fine you. And if your contractor is working under a homeowner permit that excludes contractors, his insurance may not cover any losses you incur. Always make sure, if you pull the permit, that your contractor is listed on the permit and he is registered and licensed with the county or city in which the work is being done.

  3. It is your contractor’s responsibility to know which inspections are required and to call them in. But it is not a bad idea for you to familiarize yourself with this as well. Inadvertently skipping a necessary inspection may require uncovering work and cause unnecessary delays to your project.

Start picking out your allowance items

  1. 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.

  2. Keep in mind that allowances items will also have to be installed, and that installation also costs money! Some contractors manage this by including the labor for installation in your allowance amount, while others only include the material itself in your allowance while keeping the labor separate. Either way though, it will cost significantly more in labor to install, for instance, a 4” square kitchen tile than a 12” square tile covering the same floor. So it is a good idea to confirm allowance decisions with your contractor before placing an order just to ensure you don’t incur more expense than you had anticipated.

  3. Your contractor will probably have a list of preferred vendors for you to work with in selecting the allowance items for your project. Whenever possible it is a good idea to stick to this list. If your contractor recommends a supplier to you, he can be reasonably expected to work with them to replace any faulty product that arrives from your order, whether the defect appears before or after installation. However, if you buy your products from another supplier other than the ones he suggested to you, you may have to deal with the headache of replacing any defective product that may ship on your own. If you just can’t find what you want from your contractor’s preferred vendors this may be worth the risk to you. But just be aware of that potential problem before you “go off the ranch” in this way.

Follow these steps to prepare for the start of your building project, and you will set yourself up for smooth and hassle free construction and a good relationship with your contractor. Next time, we will discuss the steps you should be taking during the actual construction process itself.

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