Has this ever happened to you? Your friend tells you about her great plans to renovate her kitchen - new cabinets, granite counter tops, maybe a stainless steel fridge, but when you ask her how the project is going a few months later, she sadly shakes her head and replies, "Can you believe it? We paid the contractor half of the money up front for supplies, he started the job, but then he just disappeared and my kitchen is a wreck."
How can you prevent this from happening and what can you do if it happens to you?
1. HIRE THE RIGHT CONTRACTOR
Start by finding a reputable contractor. The best way is through referrals. Ask your friends and family members who they have worked with. You can also check reviews on-line and contact the Better Business Bureau. Make sure the person you choose to work with is licensed, bonded and insured. Be sure to get quotes from multiple contractors and ask for referrals from other clients.
2. Now that you've chosen someone to work with, GET IT IN WRITING. A written contract is a legally enforceable agreement between two or more parties that creates an obligation to perform or not perform specific tasks. Contract signers must be competent and the contract must be mutually agreed upon to be legally enforceable.
The contract should include the specifics of the project - complete description of the work being done including dimensions, materials to be used, a time line and costs. It should outline what the contractor's insurance will cover and that the contractor will get all necessary permits. The process for a change should also be spelled out in the contract, as well as a termination clause which delineates the reasons either party can get out of the contract. Finally, a lien release should be included. This frees the homeowner from responsibility should the contractor not pay his/her subcontractors.
To be sure that you are protected, you should have an attorney review the contract. This is time and money well-spent to be sure your interests are safe.
3. What if the CONTRACTOR DOESN'T COMPLETE THE PROJECT? You'll want to begin by reviewing your contract to see if the terms were violated. Next, communicate with the contractor IN WRITING. If he or she doesn't respond, be sure to DOCUMENT everything, with careful notes and photographs of the incomplete and/or unsatisfactory work. If you hire a new contractor in the meantime, he/she can help you by assessing the damages and taking notes. You'll want to hire an attorney to help you recoup your money, as well as file a complaint with the authorities and consumer protection agencies.
We hope your dream home doesn't turn into a nightmare. Protect yourself by consulting and attorney before committing to a contractor.