The Contractor Headache

In doing everything ourselves, I never realized what working with a contractor would or could be like. Throughout our home improvement projects I have had my dad (aka the jack of all trades) readily available, and the luxury to take my time and change my mind along the way. However, one of my good friends who recently bought a house was not so lucky. After visiting with her this last week and hearing her contractor horror stories, I was so thankful that we didn’t have to go there. If you do have to work with a contractor though, here are 5 tips I would give to lessen the possible headaches to come.

Tip #1: Review the Reviews

Ask friends, neighbors, coworkers, or your realtor for contractor recommendations. Odds are if they have been happy with them, you probably will be too. Also check the company reviews online to see what other people are saying. Although a company with all 5-star reviews is more likely to do a great job, things still happen, but at least you know they have a reputation to protect, making them much more likely to work with you and make you happy. My dad hired an HVAC company to clean the ducting on their house, and after waiting around for several hours, the technician never showed up. After an angry phone call, the company rectified the situation by giving him the service free of charge, and in turn my dad recommended the company to us.

Tip #2: Know what you want

Unless you are hiring a design consultant or a top of the line contractor, you better know what you want before you bring someone in to do the work. I relate home remodeling to changing your hairstyle; if you can show the hairdresser a picture of what you want a decent stylist can usually make it happen, but if you go get a $10 haircut and ask them to “do what they think looks best” you are gambling with the outcome. Spend some time looking at pictures from Google Images, Pinterest, magazines or take pictures in model homes, friend’s homes, or of the TV screen when you see something you like. I was watching a TV show once and I really liked the fireplace that was shown in the background, so I paused the show and took a picture so I could reference it later. Try to find images that are realistic for your home and make sure they are as detailed as possible.

Tip #3: You get what you pay for

Although there are some great deals out there and contractors that are willing to work at much lower rates, be careful. If the quote sounds too good to be true, it just might be too good to be true. If you end up going with the lowest quote, make sure you have done your research on the contractor, looked at their previous work, and make sure to take Tip #4 seriously just in case.

Tip #4: Take pictures and document everything

Start out with a signed contract and document everything along the way. If you have a verbal contract, be proactive and write out the details yourself then get the contractor to sign it. If they aren’t willing to put a signature on their words, then their words probably don’t mean much. Once the work has started, document everything! Keep a journal of what time they showed up and left each day, take pictures of what got done each day, and summarize all communications you have with them. This is a CYA move on your part; if they don’t do what they said they would, you have something to fall back on other than your word against theirs.

Tip #5: Don’t pay until the job is complete

This is a tough one and I am not a lawyer or trying to give legal advice, but if the contractor didn’t complete the job (or percentage of job required for payment) than why should they get paid? If you have a good relationship with your contractor, try to talk out what happened and be flexible because things definitely do come up, but if the contractor is continually not showing up or showing up late each day, and gives you something completely different than what you wanted, they haven’t earned your money. If you do go this route you can expect to be taken to small claims court (or you can take them to court if you choose to pay anyways), so make sure you have everything well documented. Once again, I am not a lawyer so make sure you consult one if you end up in this situation. For small amounts of money, it might be easier to pay the contractor and be done with it (just don’t recommend them to a friend unless you really don’t care for that “friend”).


I hope these tips are helpful if you do have to hire a contractor for your home improvement projects. Please feel free to share your horror stories or any additional advice you might have in the comment section below.


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