Get a written contract. Most reputable companies require a written agreement for the work to be performed. Be sure to read the contract carefully, and get written approval from a company representative whenever you request and secure approval for exceptions to their normal operating procedure. This important step could minimize headaches down the road.
Include a release-of-lien clause on the contract. If your contractor will be using subcontractors to complete the job, be sure to include a release-of-lien clause to protect yourself. By doing so, subcontractors will not be able to place a lien on your property if the contractor does not pay them or otherwise breaks the legal terms of their working arrangement.
Avoid large deposits. As the old saying goes, “money is power.” Once you’ve paid for the job, you lose all of your leverage. Most reputable companies will accept a minimum deposit, with balances due at regular intervals over the project’s timeline or when the job has been completed. At each payment stage, be sure that you are satisfied with completed work before proceeding to the next step.
Don’t leave your home unattended or unprotected. Whenever possible make sure you or someone you trust will be available to “supervise” contractors in your home. If you become comfortable with contractors and trust them alone in your home, it’s still good idea to lock up your valuables; Even the best-intentioned people fall on hard luck from time to time, and may be motivated to take something of value.
Don’t help contractors, or lend them tools. Resist the temptation to help a contractor complete a task or to loan him one of your tools. If the contractor is injured, in either of these scenarios, he may be able to make a tort claim against you. Furthermore, many homeowners have reported that borrowed items were either not returned or were broken by the end of the project.
Don’t make a final payment until the job has been done right. Money is your main source of leverage when completing a home improvement project. Don’t weaken your position by paying too early in the process. And never make the final payment until your punch list is resolved to your full satisfaction.
Lodge unresolved issues with the contractor’s licensing board or the Better Business Bureau. Contractors are people too, and will make mistakes from time-to-time. Good companies will do everything they can to resolve these problems fairly. Occasionally, however, a less reputable contractor will not be responsive to your needs. In these instances, report the contractor to his licensing board and request an arbitration hearing. You can also contact the Better Business Bureau or bring a suit against the contractor in small claims court to remedy the situation.