Protecting Homeowners Through Renovation Education

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Food For Thought

Food For Thought

Some Final Thoughts…

Preventing disasters is very different than preventing problems.  Problems are unavoidable and they exist in every project.  The difference between a problem and a disaster is in how it is perceived and in how it affects the project.  Mitigating problems and preventing disasters is your goal with your home remodeling project.

Relying on references, referrals, recommendations and license checks are not adequate or meaningful tools in selecting a contractor.

Putting your project on autopilot once a contractor is selected is dangerous and irresponsible. It is necessary to monitor every step of the project regardless of the fact that you have chosen your contractor wisely.

The architect, contractor and building inspector triad:  People often assume that this set of checks and balances provides for adequate protection. If this were the case every project would be perfect.  Hence, protective contract clauses, having a third party review various stages of the project for example are key components of having adequate protection.

Verifying Insurance:  Certificates of insurance are a snap shot in time.  You’ve got to call the insurance company to verify the length of time that there is actual coverage.  Include contract clause that allows you to withhold payment if any insurance is not in effect.  The only contractors who will oppose this are those who do not expect to keep their insurance in effect.  (A good example is my contractor from hell who only paid for a short period of coverage time that we discovered long afterwards.) Also, general liability is the least amount of insurance you’re going to want him/her to have besides what is mandated by state law such as workman’s comp and a contractors surety bond. Builder’s Risk is one that our reconstruction contractor had in addition to liability and I clearly recall the conversation with the insurance company representative when I was verifying insurance coverage.  She related that he had excellent coverage – in fact, over and above what the average contractor would typically have.  And our prospective contractor was happy to provide such evidence.

Keeping the lines of communication open with your contractor throughout the project is important and keeps everyone accountable.  Always look at it as a professional working relationship and regular meetings are part of the process.  Not hearing from him/her for long periods of time is a red flag.

Deposits, payment schedules and final payments need to be closely monitored no matter how great you believe the contractor is.  The payment schedule in particular is the best way to ensure you’re paying for work that has been performed or materials supplied.  Any contractor who objects to a payment schedule that is tied directly to work performed should be quickly eliminated.  This is also is part of your vetting process; unethical contractors have greater control with a 30% – 30% – 30% payment schedule that is vague and unaccountable for detailed work performed.

You must be a stickler in obtaining lien release waivers upon every payment made. Though it may be extra work for the contractor, getting that Unconditional Lien Waiver Release (after the Conditional Lien Release has been provided) for each payment made is the best way to ensure everyone agrees they have been paid and the threat of a valid Mechanics Lien is removed.

A well-written construction contract is invaluable. Having a construction law, real estate or contract law attorney review your contract is a must.

Plans, scope of work and specifications are the cornerstone of every project.  Detailed plans and specs are the only way to ensure your chances of having a successful project.  A common complaint of contractors is that the drawings are unclear or vague.  Having your vision articulated clearly by your architect so that all parties understand what is expected can be a problem if you haven’t spent the time to get it right.   Spend the time working with your architect – or designer- to really understand the layout, what is included, does it makes sense to you and others and is everything you expect included. Don’t assume the architect knows exactly what you want. Ask questions and get clarity on wherever and whenever needed.

Hiring the best contractor can be tricky and your vetting process must include the questionnaire they fill out, a face to face interview, asking lots of questions – sometimes maybe uncomfortable – and doing your background checks beyond the usual license check and referrals is just plain necessary.  Get to know as much about their business practices by checking with their material suppliers for credit status, lawsuit and lien history.  Don’t ignore your gut feeling – something not right, or just not liking their attitude warrants passing onto the next candidate.  And please do not rush the selection process or you’ll surely do yourself a disservice.

I have found that folks really do not want to do all the work necessary to keep them in control of their project, which is foolish given the stakes at hand.  Instead, they really want to trust the contractor and believe that they will take care of everything. And of course, this leads them into trouble every time and boy do I have the emails to prove it.  Then there are the complaints to regulatory agencies received that reveal just how vulnerable and dare I say clueless the homeowner was in choosing their contractor and signing vague contracts.

You will be light years ahead provided you do the work outlined in these courses and get an attorney involved in reviewing your contract.  Though there are no guarantees all will be smooth sailing you will at the very least be prepared to respond more confidently when problems do arise and have a plan at hand with protective clauses in place.

Finally, please do not let your guard down when it comes to executing these guidelines because it could just be the one loophole that comes back to bite you.

Your money, your investment, your property, and your home – you call the shots.  You just can’t afford not to.  And by the way, that’s your right!

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact me at and if I can be of further help, do let me know.

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Jody Costello

Americas’ Home Renovation Planning Expert

Home Improvement Expert

Home Improvement Expert

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