You've saved your pennies, you've pinned all the things you love to Pinterest and now it's finally time to fix up your kitchen or redo your bathroom or build that deck. Now comes the easy part: finding an excellent contractor and getting started. Right?
If you go by the idea that most people are good, you can also assume that most contractors are also good. And while that may, in fact, be true, stories of undependable and unscrupulous contractors abound. So here are 10 things you can do to make sure you don't end up with a shoddy space, or worse, a half-done room, a hole in your bank account, and a court date.
1. Do your research.
You need to know that the person you are allowing into your home is qualified and trustworthy. Working with someone who is referred to you by someone you trust is the best approach. Or, use Angie's List or another service that rates contractors and depends on word of mouth. You don't want to find out halfway through your roof repair that your unlicensed contractor is also a fugitive.
2. Do more research.
If you get an estimate for $15 a square foot for a typical tile installation job, it helps to know that $3-6 a square foot is closer to the going rate.
3. Trust your gut.
A contractor whose response to your punch list is "Wow, did you win the lottery or something?!" is probably not going to be the most economical resource. Next! Likewise for a contractor who berates or belittles you for expressing an opinion about his work. It's your house and your money.
4. Demand respect for your time.
True or not, contractors have a reputation for a lack of promptness. Everyone is late occasionally, but if it becomes a habit, it could end up costing you more than time. You may not always know if this is going to be a problem when you hire a contractor, but if he shows up for your first meeting late - and especially without calling to let you know - you might want to move on to the next guy. Someone who doesn't respect your time when he's trying to get the job certainly won't once he has it.
5. Negotiate up front.
Especially if you have a contractor doing multiple jobs in your home, rates should be negotiable. Make sure you agree to an amount - in writing - before work begins.
6. Don't pay everything up front.
The Chicago Tribune says that most states allow contractors to ask for a maximum of 33 percent of the total cost up front. "Your contractor shouldn't ask for an unreasonable sum of money up front. Yes, he needs money to get the project started, but asking for more than 15 percent raises a red flag," said How Stuff Works. "Your contractor should have enough credit to pay the rest of the up-front costs."
7. Don't be afraid to speak up if (when!) something goes wrong.
It's OK to be the person who doesn't send your sandwich back because they forgot to leave the onions off. Living with a kitchen that has mismatched tile because you were too timid to speak up and make your contractor fix it will make you angry every day.
8. Document, document, document.
If you see your renovation going in an unwanted direction or are finding that your contractor isn't living up to expectations, start writing it all down. "Document each time the contractor doesn't live up to the specifics of the contract, such as substituting inferior materials or failing to stick to the schedule," said House Logic. "Then send a return-receipt letter to her business and home address stating that unless the problem is rectified within a specified number of days, she's in breach of contract, and you'll be terminating it.
9. Don't be afraid to pull the plug.
When it just gets to be too much, and you have just cause, end your arrangement. "Firing your contractor may seem obvious, but it's not an easy step when things go seriously wrong. Your contractor could challenge the firing in court as a breach of contract: You must show that he breached the contractor agreement first," said House Logic. "A contractor probably won't refund money you've already paid. If you've written any checks up front, this tactic can be costly."
10. Don't end up on the news.
A renovation gone sideways with a contractor who has a history of questionable work or behavior could end badly for everyone. Be careful working with someone who is unlicensed or has an iffy track record out of obligation or because you're chasing a lowball estimate. You don't want to be the guy out 50k, sitting in your ripped-up living room, watching your story unfold on the nightly news.