Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Beware of Scheming Contractors!

One of the most common requests I get from customers is to fix something that has been previously done by someone else. Some of the most common requests are: centering or rehanging windows that were incorrectly measured and put in place; replacing siding that has begun to fall off houses or was hung crooked; and home additions that are not built to code. I actually had a homeowner whose addition would have collapsed at the first big snowfall because it was so structurally inept. Problems like these often require complete tear-down and rebuilding, at a huge expense to the homeowner.

Recently, I was watching an episode on HGTV's "Holmes on Homes." I generally like this guy, because he has the best interest of the homeowner in mind, as I do. In this particular episode, a woman had hired a contractor to remodel her main floor bathroom. At the point the show was taped, she had paid the contractor 3/4 of the full amount, or nearly $8000. When Mr. Holmes and his crew dug in, they discovered dangerous electrical wiring, unacceptable plumbing, and just a myriad of other problems with the project. Which was, of course, left unfinished. The poor homeowner had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get the contractors back to finish the work. They were refusing, stating that she had to pay them the full amount before they finished.

Let me tell you this, folks. This is wrong on so many levels:

Number One: A good and reputable contractor will ask that you pay one-half of a $10,000 or less bid up front, with progress payments scheduled over the course of the job. Of course, this is provided the job is being done according to a signed contract and to your satisfaction
Note: Projects over $10,000 are a different ball-game that I will discuss in a future blog.

Number Two: As appropriate to your particular job, it must be inspected in regards to electrical, plumbing, and structural soundess.

Number Three: A good and reputable contractor will tell you all of this, as well as let you know when any necessary inspections will be happening. All jobs, without exception, should have appropriate inspections relative to whatever the job is (did I already say this?). If a contractor you hire doesn't seem to think inspections are important or necessary, get rid of him immediately! It is a sure sign of a scheming contractor. (By the way, this step alone would have saved this poor homeowner at least $6000, and a world of hurt.)

Number Four: You never have to pay in full until your job is complete to your satisfaction. A good and reputable contractor will allow the homeowner to inspect the final job before asking for the remaining 1/4 cost of the project. At this point, the contractor and the homeowner should go over the contract one final time and ensure that everything has been done. When this final inspection is done, payment is then expected immediately. (see my blog entitled "Please, Pay Your Contractor!)

If you have already found yourself scammed at the hands of the scheming contractor, you do have recourse. In the United States, most states have a Contractor Recovery Fund Division. This organization will help you in any way it can to recover losses. The State of Minnesota, for example, offers a comprehensive guide for dealing with the schemers, as well as how to choose a reputable contractor.

Legitimate licensed contractors pay into this fund yearly to cover homeowners who hire unlicensed, unqualified people (who only call themselves contractors). This is mandated by state law. In the same way that stores have to cover theft losses by raising prices for consumers, the same thing applies here: The reputable, licensed contractor has to pay into the fund to cover the shoddy workmanship of the scheming contractor. And guess who ultimately pays the price? YOU, the homeowner pays! So save yourself money, time, and heartache by choosing a contractor that is licensed to do the job, has good references and reputation, and who answers all of your questions openly and honestly.

Next, I will blog in more detail about how to pick a trustworthy (aka: a good and reputable) contractor for your home building projects.

Til then,


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