You’ve finally hired a contractor for your big renovation and just as things are about to kick off, you get a sinking feeling in your stomach.
“What have I done?” you ask yourself.
Your contractor is making you second guess your decision. What happened to the smiling professional that sold you on the work and who is this character that you’re struggling to deal with now?
Hiring a contractor for your home improvement project is a big (and often stressful) decision. With so many choices and pressures, homeowners often pull the trigger on their contracting company prematurely. Not having done their diligence in research, they wind up with a list of regrets.
There are good, trustworthy contractors out there and services like Baeumler Approved help vet your choices. But it’s important to be a savvy consumer and know the signs of a poor project.
Even If you’ve signed paperwork and handed over cash, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and turn around a potentially disastrous situation. Watch out for these signs of a crooked contracting company and learn what to do in each case.
Before you signed on the dotted line, you probably felt a nagging feeling in the back of your mind: Something wasn’t quite right. But, it’s not like you sign over thousands of dollars and access to you home every week--you figured it was just nerves.
Now that the excitement of finally getting the project going has faded, you’re seeing a little more objectively. Any of these ring a bell?
They started the work, but haven’t been here for days.
They’re hard to get in touch with
They say one thing and do another
They keep asking for more money
They want payment in cash
There’s no written contract
They are way cheaper than everyone else
The materials that showed up aren’t what we talked about
These unexplained events guarantee that something isn’t right. Do not give them the benefit of the doubt. The question from here is how you can stop the project from going terribly wrong, because that’s where it’s headed.
Turning a project around
Most “bad” contractors aren’t out to intentionally hurt you. When poor work and shoddy project management arises, it’s often because staff and management are inexperienced or overwhelmed.
As soon as there are signs of trouble, here’s your best course of action:
Clear communication is one major factor (which you can contribute to) that could potentially turn a project around.
If you have questions or are unhappy with how work is done at any point in the project, speak up. Ideally, your expectations would be made clear before the project started, but it’s never too late to clarify.
Especially for contractors that are unresponsive, it’s important to document your communication attempts. Send emails, leave voicemails, and take notes on when you spoke, what was discussed, and what was agreed on. If you speak on the phone, follow up with an email that confirms decisions and commitments.
This paper trail will help you hold your contractor accountable and it can also be used in court to support your claims (if it comes to that).
Don’t wait until there’s a major problem to get involved. You’ll have a better chance of noticing any poor work before it’s covered up or moved on from if you’re present throughout the project. Even if you’ve never swung a hammer and know nothing about construction, you must be involved in your renovation project.
Check on your project in person. See if workers are there when they should be and if progress is being made. Take pictures even if you don’t know what you’re looking at. Try not to delay work, but engage the workers positively and ask questions about the project.
Ask for regular updates from the project manager. Request that they call or email you on a weekly basis with details on progress and any challenges. This sets you up to ask questions and tips you off to any issues.
When a project can’t be turned around, take inventory of the best way you can defend yourself against the repercussions of a botched job.
Check Your Records
Take inventory of what you have in writing. Is there a contract, a record of their business license and insurance, receipts, warranty details? These are your tools for proving what your agreement was and where this company is falling short. The more well-documented the process was, the better.
If there’s a contract, check the fine print for indemnification and arbitration clauses. More on this later.
If you have limited or no records, you can take your grievances to review sites. Bad publicity can be very detrimental to a contractor and may catch their attention more effectively than multiple voicemails.
Make sure your public comments are completely factual. Untrue statements can be considered slander or libel and you may end up being the one in legal trouble.
Know Your Rights
Your contract largely outlines your commitments and entitlements. With this document you have some choices: Request arbitration; go to small claims court; or hire a lawyer.
This is a relatively low-cost option, where you and the contractor present your sides to an independent third party (like the BBB), who is empowered to decide a resolution. Some contracts have a clause where this is mandated, but you can also request this resolution from your contractor.
Go to small claims court
In small claims court you can choose to represent yourself or to be represented by a lawyer or paralegal. Both sides will be responsible to state and prove their case. Award limits are capped (i.e. $25,000 in Ontario) and there are various fees to file and progress claims. A judge will hear your case and give a final decision.
Hire a lawyer
Construction attorneys know the law back and forth. Although, at a few hundred dollars an hour, they aren’t cheap, a consultation will give you invaluable insight on your best course of action
A Reliable Contractor
If you wound up in an agreement with a crooked contractor, you aren’t alone. Whether you missed the boat on how to hire a reputable contractor, or you were simply duped, you still have hope.
Stop your twisting stomach and act now. Recognize the problem early and aim to turn it around. If salvaging the project can’t happen, take the proper steps to defend yourself and create a favourable outcome.
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