You are excited about your home improvement project and plan to work with a local licensed contractor who, your friends assure you, has an excellent reputation. You have met with the contractor, shown him drawings of how you want your remodeling project to look, and have created a list of the various “big picture” things you want him to do.
The contractor shakes your hand and goes home. The next day he arrives with a correspondingly “big picture” estimate of costs and milestones.
Does the vagueness of the estimate worry you? It should. If there comes a time when you and your contractor do not see eye to eye, your first instinct may be to accuse him of trying to rip you off. After all, if your contractor is so reputable, he will want to avoid the damage to his business reputation that your accusations would cause, wouldn’t he?
Well, wouldn’t he?
In reality, the contractor likely will have the legal high ground because the contract will show he is within the estimates.
Instead of escalating things to the point of a lawsuit which you might lose, here are some tips which might save both you and your contractor some heartburn.
Inspections and Permitting. Many unhappy people have reported that the number one frustration of a home remodeling project, paradoxically, occurs after the work is done. If your contractor promises in the contract that he will obtain all permits and inspections required by your local governmental authorities, the contract must specify that you will withhold a substantial portion of the final payment until the official permitting and inspection documents are delivered to you. Once you pay your final payment, your contractor may put you off, making excuses that the government officials are backlogged and that he has to get to work on a new project. Withholding the final payment is your only leverage.
Owner-Provided Materials. You like to order things yourself. You fell in love with a beautiful designer kitchen sink from Italy that you ordered six months ago and is on its way in a container ship from Palermo. If the Italian freighter goes down in high seas, and your new granite countertop cannot be installed until the sink is in place, your home remodeling project has hit a snag which is not the contractor’s fault. Home improvement projects have distressingly linear progressions – like dominos. If the materials necessary to carry out the next step are not there, the contractor is stymied. And if you were the one who was supposed to supply the materials, the delay is not his fault.
Subcontractor Services. Your contract should clearly enunciate your contractor’s responsibility to obtain subcontractors who can perform the work within the contract’s specified milestones. If your contractor has a favorite subcconractor for tile instllation and that person took a vacation, this delay is the fault of the contractor. But if there is no milestone in the contract, your remodelling project will grind to a halt until the subcontractor returns.
I Never Knew There Was A Pipe Behind That Wall. If there is something in your home’s structure that an experienced contractor reasonably could not have foreseen before he gave you his estimate, and it affects the way he is going to carry out the remainder of the project, it’s nobody’s fault, but you may incur higher final costs as a result. On the other hand, if your contractor knocks down a load bearing wall, that would be his fault and he would be obligated to remedy it because it is reasonable to assume that he should know whether a wall is load bearing or not.
Don’t Be Afraid of Change Orders. A reputable contractor will write a change order and obtain your signature whenever there is a change to a milestone or cost estimate. This is to protect you both.