As a homeowner, you must understand the value of finding the right contractor for your home renovation project. You’ve likely spent hours asking friends and neighbours for recommendations and researching contractors online. Perhaps you browsed through several portfolios and interviewed several candidates. You’re excited for your renovation work to begin, and you want to find a contractor who shares your enthusiasm.

Once you choose a contractor, your work should be done, right? Think again. Communication is key when it comes to contractors completing your renovation project properly and on time. 

There are certain things you should and shouldn’t do when dealing with contractors. We spoke to Jenna Cunningham, a Maryland real estate agent and seasoned home flipper, to get her advice on how to work with contractors. If you’ve already hired your contractor, but they haven’t started the job yet, here is some advice to ensure your relationship is set up for success. 

10 Tips for Dealing with Contractors

1. Discuss timeline and billing expectations upfront

Jenna’s biggest disagreements with her clients are fights about differing expectations surrounding timelines. A homeowner thinks it will be done much earlier than the contractor, and problems ensue. Jenna suggests that homeowners “be upfront. Everyone wants to meet expectations. But if your contractor doesn’t know yours, they can’t.”

2. Be nice to your contractors

Jenna reminds her clients that it’s hard to find good contractors; once you find one, you’ll probably want to use them again. That’s why it’s important to maintain a great working relationship. You won’t want to begin the long contractor search again if you don’t have to.

3. Pay their bills on time

If a contractor’s rate is standard, then they deserve it, says Jenna. Construction is hard work, and respect is a two-way street. If you don’t scoff at your contractor’s rates and you pay their bills on time, they’re more likely to respect your needs and wishes. Contractors are often swimming in potential work, and if you don’t treat them well, they have other clients who’d be happy to take them on. Make sure they want to work with you, too.

4. Make sure ALL of your wants and needs are in the contract

Lastly, any portion of your renovation project that you’re expecting needs to be in the contract. From the labor to the work being done, to appliance installation, to electrical work, it’s better to be overly detailed than not to get what you want. Don’t assume it will happen if you haven’t discussed a specific vision in your contract or in person with your contractor.

5. Make sure your contractor is insured and bonded

If your contractor isn’t insured, there’s nothing you can do if things get ugly. The state you live in can’t protect you, and you don’t have as many options to take action against them. If they are insured - even if their business goes up in flames, and they, therefore, aren’t able to complete the project, you’ll have options. If your contractor is bonded, it means if they abandon the project, your lender will help cover any money they took from you. 

Also, make sure your contractor isn’t in the middle of a legal battle before hiring them. You often won’t be able to see this unless you search their business in your state’s case records. The last thing you want to see is that your contractor filed for bankruptcy and is being sued by other homeowners.

6. Do not pay your contractor more than 10% of the total cost before they start the project

Why? If they walk away from the job before starting and take the money you gave them already, your state’s guaranty/recovery fund will pay up to a certain amount back if your contractor was licensed with the state.

7. Know what you want and don’t make last-minute changes

Last-minute changes can wreak havoc on a contractor’s plans. You don’t want contractors to have to redo work they just did or go over your budget. That said, making changes to your contract is ok to do, but make sure you track all changes during your project in writing.

8. Expect your home to get a bit messy

Brace yourself to kick up some dust. It’s a good idea to discuss whether you or your contractor will be responsible for covering up the furniture. When you prepare in advance, you won’t get in your contractor’s way while they are trying to work.

9. Prepare for delays and unexpected costs

It’s normal to encounter these in major renovation projects due to: the weather, your contractor’s schedule, the rising cost of goods, supply issues and more. You might want to plan to spend 15-30% more, in total, on the job.

10. Embrace frequent communication

Good communication is essential for a good relationship with your contractor, so you’ll want to ask how the contractor prefers to communicate with you. Get their phone number and email address, and decide whether you will regularly hold on-site meetings. 

Things to Not Say to a Contractor

If you follow our ten tips above, you’ll likely have a good relationship with your contractor. However, it’s important not to get too comfortable. There are still a few things you probably should just not risk bringing up at all.

First, don’t give your contractor the inkling that they’re the only one for the job. You want them to feel like they have some competition to hold them accountable for their work performance.

This is a big one: don’t ask for a discount to pay upfront, as they may not even finish the job. 

Also, don’t say, “I’m not in a hurry.” Be sure to set dates and deadlines to get the project done on time and within budget. Plus, they may begin to prioritise other projects over yours if you are too lenient.

Lastly, don’t ask them to choose the materials. Be specific about what materials you would like them to purchase and where they buy them, based on your budget and personal preferences.

Now you should have a good understanding of how contractors work, but in case your contractor doesn’t meet your expectations, RenoFi can help you. Check out our article on how to deal with a bad contractor to learn more about communicating with an underperforming contractor and how to fire your contractor, should you need to take the next steps. 

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