Your relationship with a contractor or tradesman can make or break the renovation job. Tempers can flare easily when a house (or even one room) is in shambles as it is being redesigned. Add contracts, billing, and negotiation to the mix and you can see how things can get out of hand quickly.
Here are our top tips to working with contractors to ensure a smooth project that gets done.
First, you have to find the contractor.
As with most questions these days, start with the internet. But be warned! Many of the most skilled and reliable contractors are quite difficult (or impossible!) to search online so word of mouth recommendations are powerful. If you know anyone who recently had work done, ask who they used and how it went.
Once you find one (or a few) contractors, gather their contact information and check to see if their license is up to date. In Iowa, you search for this online. Also, be sure to double check their insurance and ask if they are willing to give you a W9. A “no” or any uncertainty should rule out that contractor.
Assuming you are getting along with this contractor, ask them if they have any previous customers that would be willing to talk with you about their work. If so, call them up and have a quick chat. Was the contractor punctual? Was the project completed as expected? Were there delays? What would they have done differently?
Before the Work Begins
Hiring a contractor comes with a lot of decisions to make. A renovation project takes time and materials. Before the work begins make sure you are clear about who will be paying for what and when.
If you’re hiring a contractor to install cabinets, will you be shopping for, purchasing, and delivering the cabinets? Or will you choose what you want and the contractor will purchase them and take it from there?
These details can wildly affect a bid. Will you pay for materials up front or is it part of the entire bid? Avoid the situation of a surprise bill and get clear on what the bid actually says. If it is confusing, ask for clarification.
This also makes it easier to compare two or more different bids. If you can’t get clarification or things keep changing, pause negotiations. Never enter an ambiguous agreement.
When to Pay
The next thing to nail down is payment. Before paying ANYTHING, be sure to have a copy of the signed contract. By the time of signing you should be clear on the timeframe of payment. Here, we’ll go through some common scenarios.
Rarely, you’ll be asked to pay 100% of the cost up front before the contractor shows up. This is a really big red flag. Just don’t do it.
Sometimes a partial payment will be required to schedule the job and then you will pay the rest upon completion or at specified milestones. These details should be hammered out before the job starts and ideally before you sign a contract.
How to Pay
The form of payment can be negotiated in the contract. When the work is done and everyone is satisfied. Pay.
It’s simple. Pay when you agreed to pay. Resist the urge to nitpick every detail of the renovation before releasing payment. It leads to bad feelings and uncertain outcomes. If the inspector is satisfied and the project is complete, pay up.
A Note on Out of Area Renovations
Finding a good contractor is tough. Finding one to work on a property that you own, but have never been to or that you don’t go to frequently is even harder. Definitely get to know anyone you plan to hire over the phone. Getting recommendations and testimonials is even more important than when you’re local. You’ll need as much knowledge as possible to make the best decision.
Negotiations and signing a contract is simple with the use of technology. Electronic signatures or scanning and emailing PDFs is simple. You agree to pay. They agree to do the work. What could go wrong?
A lot. And a lot more can go wrong more easily when you’re not regularly at the jobsite. Ask the contractor to take photos before, during, and after the work. Depending on your agreement, you might need to keep diligent records of invoices and receipts.
How will you know the work is done?
Photos are great, but can be tricky. Say for instance you hire a construction crew to clean out a property. The contractor takes a photo with a pile of debris in the room and sends it to you. Then a while later they take another photo of the same room with no debris. Problem solved right? … right?
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to just push the debris to another corner and take the second picture. (Bob and Mitch have had this happen. It is super annoying!) Videos might be a better option. Alternatively, you can hire home inspectors to check on the job.
Best of Luck
Renovations are really rewarding. Seeing a room or even an entire house improve is a good feeling. Use these tips to maximize your chance of a smooth project that gets done on time!
The Sell Now Iowa crew does not work on properties that we do not own. We only do work on our properties.
Yes, we get asked all of the time. No, we won’t do it just this once.
Image credit: Adobe Stock