Before putting down money and letting the people leave, what resources are available to a consumer to protect themselves (before the fact and after the fact)?
Comfort level, commonsense and walk away is about all you've got on your side. Yes, services like Home Advisor and Angies List do have some pull, but if the contractor's gone bad then those services can't reason with them.
First off, don't give any down-money and cancel everything with that contractor. Short jobs of a week or 2, by good contractors, will only require payment or start of payments upon completion.
Longer projects of a month or more, with a good contractor, won't require money until demolition is done and a discovery of any obstacles is discussed and planned with the "estimate" being converted to an "Invoice" with an updated Contract...if needed.
Then, the written Contract will spell-out the agreed payment schedule with goals achieved by the contractor before another payment is made or the establishment of a payment plan or financing. A payment schedule should start with no more than 25% and a payment plan should be no more than 10%.
Once the money is fair and square, then you need to possibly force constant communication and take an active interest in the project. Ask how things are going, ask to be shown any problems and ask about sub-contractors or materials that were to have shown up.
If things change and the project is falling behind, communication ceases, work turns sloppy or daily clean-up stops. Then, stop everything and calmly discuss your concerns before the whole crew (if any). Yes, you may have to take off from work to address the changes you're noticing.
If you're met with attitude from someone you thought you had a good relationship with and nothing's getting re-planned nor resolved, then fire them and provide a partial next payment. You must always be prepared to have another contractor take over regardless of project delay.
This is your money and your home or business and he, she or they better shape up back to how it all started or it's time for them to ship out, period. Building Inspectors, the BBB, Lawyers and the contractor's Insurance Company won't and don't act or do any good until there's gross rubber-stamp negligence.
It's always a gamble and the pressures of any work can get to anyone. But, a professional will re-group, slow down and re-trace or apologize and thank you for picking up what they dropped and get things right back on track. You act professional and they'll act professional.
Don't get paranoid and do realize the stage or phase of the project before jumping to the worst your mind can imagine. Observe, take pictures and notes and give it a day or 3 to correct itself. The contractor and crew want to hear your interest in their process and your praise of their work, but whining and complaining will kill their morale.
- Write a scope for your project. Do this before you call anyone. Write down what you want to see done and try to come up with a budget and a maximum
- Get quotes in writing. Feeling people out is fine, but if you want the job done, a written quote is of tremendous worth.
- Referrals are nice, but remember that prior experiences don't guarantee future performance. I've had random hires do stellar work and referred people burn me badly.
- Write a final contract up and agree on when payments will be made. Stick to the payment plan and do not fork over money before any metrics are met (i.e. 50% payment when X is done). Never pay full price up front.
- Educate yourself and seek second opinions when a job doesn't seem right. Don't just assume the work is being done, or being done correctly. Look at the job during the process and ask reasonable questions. A contractor who cannot answer questions is often a red flag.
- Many areas have a contractor board. These vary from state-to-state, but are mandatory in some areas (like California). Contact them to verify credentials if you can.
Hi I disagree that the homeowner should tell the contractor how the work should be done.It is the contractor's responsibility to know how the job is to be done.The average homeowner would not know how a job is to be done; if a homeowner says don't install rebar in a concrete wall or that movement joints are not necessary for tile should the contractor do it just because the house is theirs? Some homeowners stay home and insist on supervising the contractor. I strongly dislike that. The homeowner can only say how they want the job to look when it is done but they have no say in how that result is reached. Frank