How to avoid home renovation nightmares by choosing the right contractor

May 24, 2018, 10:26 PM | Updated: 11:16 pm

Whether you’re adding to your home, retiling the bathroom or installing new kitchen cabinets, getting the right contractor could be all the difference between a successful remodel and sleepless nights.

Ask for referrals

Edward Axley has been in the construction business for 20 years and now runs Davies Design Build. His top advice for anyone searching for a contractor is start by word-of-mouth.

“Start with people you know,” Axley explained. “Look around your own family, your own neighborhood. Ask them if they know anyone. People are only going to refer somebody that won’t embarrass them or come back to bite them.”

Check reviews and references

Axley suggests calling up at least two contractors for your project, but no more than five.

“It is nice to get a feel from contractors that are typically known for being high detailed and a little more expensive and contractors that tend to be less detailed and cheaper.”

Use websites like Angie’s List, Yelp and Google to research complaints on your list of possible contractors.

“Get some sort of reviews from others. I would get on Google real hard and I’d get on reviews,” said Ross Ford, Executive Vice-President of the Home Builders Association of Utah.

Ford says questions for a prospective contractor include: “Are you licensed? What are some of the other projects you’ve worked on? Who are your subcontractors and how long have they been there?”

You should also ask for references from each contractor. Your best bet is talk to recent customers.

“If someone comes well referred than they’re probably a safe bet,” said Axley. “But, you should still continue on.”

Research credentials

Before you hire, take a few minutes to find out if a contractor is even licensed to do the work. That’s something Ford says few of us do.

“They put more energy into the research for their next smartphone than they do for their contractor,” Ford said. “To me, that’s the biggest mistake people make.”

The Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing’s (DOPL) website is the go-to site for verifying a contractor’s license in Utah.

“If they’re not licensed and insured, you could be in big trouble,” Axley explained. “I pulled up Facebook Marketplace and in no time at all I found 29 contractors and then I opened the DOPL on a second screen and entered their name or company name. Of the 29 I found, only nine were licensed.”

Ford also recommends looking into professional association because more established contractors will belong to one.

“It shows they care a lot about their reputation,” Ford explained. “If they do something bad or inappropriate, they’re going to be called out by their peers. They have to face the public humiliation.”

Get it in writing

Any contract you agree to should have the details spelled out, from payments to materials to schedules.

“I think you should get everything in writing. There should be a description of what they’re going to do. Go beyond just a budget,” Axley said. “I think there should be pictures involved showing that this element goes to this location. If they’re not performing according to schedule, there should be some sort of language saying we can end this agreement with you.”

“Anything you don’t get in writing, just assume you’re going to get cheated,” Ford explained. “Not that people are intentionally cheating. Ninety-eight percent of contractors are very good and decent, but people forget things. People perceive things different. If you don’t put it in writing, everybody is going to remember it different. It never works out well.”

Don’t pay for labor in advance

Don’t pay for half the job upfront.

“It’s OK for the contractor to expect progressive payment,” Axley said. “Pay them for that item once it’s delivered. Pay contractors proportional to the amount of work that’s been done.”

Ford says there may be some materials that could require a deposit, such as cabinets.

“I wouldn’t give your contractor any money upfront for any labor,” Ford remarked. “It’s always paid after.”

Don’t pay cash. There’s no paper trail if something goes wrong. And don’t forget to get what’s called a lien release from the contractor and even his or her suppliers. It protects you from having a lien slapped on your property if the contractor you hired doesn’t pay their bills.

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How to avoid home renovation nightmares by choosing the right contractor