If you’ve ever talked to anyone about a less than successful renovation project, you probably heard all about what the sales person promised that didn’t come about, how messy the installer was, that nobody made it clear what would happen and when… And, there are indisputably companies out there who do not come close to delivering on their promises.
However, as a party to any contract, it is also your responsibility to be certain you understand all the details, and that your contractor knows your expectations and is able to meet your requirements on a renovation project. In an effort to alleviate some of the potential conflicts that come as a result of misunderstandings in a contract situation, I would like to put forth some responsibilities of each party to the contract.
- Define your expectations before you meet with any contractor. Know exactly what you are seeking to accomplish. A contractor cannot meet your needs if you don’t know what they are.
- When you make an appointment with a contractor to discuss you project, make sure you are on time and able to give them your undivided attention throughout the meeting. This might include getting a sitter for the kids, asking someone to watch the dog for an hour or two, and turning off your cell phone and turning on your answering machine so that you are not constantly interrupted by phone calls.
- Before signing any contract, make sure that all of the details are included – colors, sizes, schedule, and what is not a part of the scope of work.
- A special note when selecting anything that involves natural products (wood, stone, etc.) – don’t just look at a small sample and assume that you are going to be satisfied with a larger project. For instance, natural stone or granite has huge variances in veining and color. If you are having a large countertop done (such as an island in your kitchen), be sure to see the full slab of stone that will be used so that you will know what to expect from the finished project. The same when working with wood – graining varies from board to board, and each piece responds differently to sanding and staining, so never assume that your new wood cabinets are going to look exactly like the small block of wood that the contractor shows you.
- If you are asking for a stain match to existing wood, it is your responsibility to provide all of the pertinent details – manufacturer and color of original stain, type of material the stain has been applied to, etc., to the best of your ability. And remember, even if your contractor uses the exact materials that you specify, the match may not be PERFECT (in your opinion) due to variations in manufacturing processes, environmental conditions, and even age of the original project. You cannot expect to get an exact match to an antique cabinet when the same finish is applied to new wood. Your contract should specify that any matching will be done “to reasonable standards” or “as closely as possible” or words to that effect. And, before the project is begun, it would be in your best interest to ask to see a sample of the finish using the same materials that will be used on the final project.
- Bear in mind that many contractors will not even offer to stain match or color match on a project, because they do not have access to someone with the necessary skills. In this case, your contract should specify that the customer is responsible for all staining or painting upon completion of the contract.
- If you are replacing windows, it is your responsibility to remove any window treatments, and to reinstall them on completion of the project. Remodeling contractors are not trained for this type of installation, generally, and you will be much more satisfied if you do it yourself or have a professional window treatment installation done. In the rare event that this is included in the scope of work, make sure it is specified in the contract.
- Never accept verbal changes to a contract. If you are promised something by a sales person, make sure it is spelled out in the contract. If it is not in writing, it is almost legally impossible to prove it was ever a part of the contract. Review all the details of the contract and be certain that everyone is in complete agreement as to expectations before you sign anything.
- Understand the payment schedule for your project, and honor it. Depending on the type of work being done, you will be expected to pay 1/3 to ½ of the contract value prior to start of work (to pay for materials), then, depending on the timeframe, may need to make an interim payment at a specific completion point, with final payment due when final work is completed. In the case of a short time frame project (such as windows and doors), a first payment and final payment will generally be the rule of thumb. Have your check ready on the day of completion to give to the installer, unless the contract specifies otherwise. (Obviously, if you are financing your project, the payment schedule will have been established at the time the financing paperwork is signed).
- Start with the basics – be sure that all customer contact information (name, address, telephone number – including alternate phone – best time to contact) is completely accurate. It doesn’t do anyone any good if you have the customer’s home phone number if everyone works and no one is there to answer – if mobile phone is the best way to communicate, be sure that is included, and prominently, on the contract.
- Make sure everyone is on the same page – before you sell something, you have to be certain this is what the customer wants. If you are selling granite and they want marble, but everyone simply says “stone”, what is going to happen when the material arrives and the customer says that it is not what the ordered?
- Double and triple check the details – count windows, recalculate square footage for flooring, identify color and style selections – with customer sign-off for each detail, to assure that everyone agrees.
- Make sure all promises are in writing – extra touches that are not part of a normal installation (such as pre-staining, color matching, reinstallation of window treatments), and that the contract spells out what must be done in the event of a change to the scope of work (change order signed by customer and contractor – no verbal changes without written confirmation)
- Specify who is responsible for providing any work permits required for the project – and that they must be posted from beginning of project through final completion. Be sure any necessary inspections are scheduled with local governing bodies – there’s nothing like holding up your renovation because you forgot to schedule the electrical or plumbing inspection prior to planning drywall installation.
- Explain payment schedules, terms and conditions (such as cancellation fees, etc.), and all labor and material warranties, whether provided by the manufacturer or the contractor.
- With the broad range of cultures and languages in our area, it is particularly important to be sure that nothing gets “lost in the translation” – be positive that the customer understands all aspects of the contract exactly as they are intended. If in doubt, review and ask for assistance.
If you as a homeowner are diligent in assuring that you meet all of your responsibilities, and that you are familiar with the contractor’s responsibilities to be certain that they also honor these duties, your remodeling project should go much more smoothly from the outset, and everyone will end up much happier. That isn’t to say everything will be perfect every time – the number one rule in remodeling is that there is no such thing as perfect, if you are a homeowner – but it is much simpler to identify real issues if you know what to expect from the beginning.
Rae the Renovator