The pandemic has meant a lot more time at home for most people, and while they’ve been there, they’ve noticed things that need fixing. Lots of things. All of which has translated into busy contractors, higher prices on services and materials, and delays in getting projects permitted and completed.
It might be tempting for a homeowner to be less picky about hiring a contractor, but Joshua Lane, a construction litigator at Ahlers Cressman & Sleight in Seattle, says that would be a mistake.
“Think twice about contractors who won’t take the time to answer your questions, provide references that you can’t verify, use high-pressure sales techniques—for example, a special price but only if you sign today—won’t provide a written contract, or give you an offer that sounds too good to be true,” Lane advises.
Before you choose a contractor, decide exactly what you want. “You can ask contractors to provide ideas,” Lane says, “but really nailing down what it is that you really want—types of flooring or hardware, or the layout—will not only help you get what you actually want, but will help the contractor create it for you.”
Next, look at online consumer reviews and check your state’s website to make sure potential contractors have the proper credentials. Washington state residents can go to secure.lni.wa.gov/verify to confirm that a contractor has an active license, bond and liability insurance—“all deal-breakers if the answer is no,” Lane warns—and also whether a company’s bond has been sued recently. If they have employees, they must also have workers’ comp insurance.
Lane recommends getting multiple bids and comparing the contract terms. Ask about their schedule, the possibility of delays, and their experience with the work you need. Also find out if the bid is good even if the price of the materials goes up before the project begins.
“After balancing the list of factors, I’d negotiate with the contractor I like best to get the most favorable terms possible,” Lane says. “[And] don’t be afraid to ask for references and call them.”
Before signing a contract, make sure you understand all the details. An experienced construction attorney can help with that.
“If there’s something in the contract you don’t understand, ask,” Lane says. “Don’t be afraid to appear inexperienced or foolish; it’s far more foolish not to ask and find out later when there’s a problem and the term is very bad for you. … Having an attorney review a contract can be a solid insurance policy and valuable education to avoiding pitfalls on your specific project.”
Here are some things to consider when reading a contract, according to Lane: “What happens if you want to add to the scope of the work? Are you paying in one lump sum, or does the contractor bill on an hourly rate?” If the contractor uses subcontractors, get their names and check them out, too. Also find out what happens if a dispute arises between you and the contractor.
· Be as detailed as possible about what you want to accomplish with your project
· Get multiple bids and research contractors before interviewing them
· Ask questions of the contractor
· Carefully review the contract before signing; if possible, have an attorney review
· If a problem comes up, communicate it in writing to the contractor; if serious delays occur or you consider firing the contractor, an attorney can help you resolve the dispute or terminate the contract in a way that protects your rights
And finally, even though contractors are very busy these days, don’t forget about negotiation. As Lane points out, “You won’t have any chance of getting a better deal if you don’t ask.”
For more information, see our construction litigation overview.