Buying a fixer-upper can save you money if renovating, but you will need to find a reputable contractor. You have to be willing to bear with the inconvenience of living in a less than ideal home, but now biggest hurdle is finding the right contractor and getting the job done.
This is an area that has long been ripe for rip-offs; and horror stories abound. Naturally, people are hesitant to engage in a significant renovation. We provide a helpful and thorough step-by-step guide to give you peace of mind and confidence when you are ready to make the hiring decision.
Included are important questions to ask when interviewing contractors, how to get along with them when hired and scams to look out for.
Table of Contents
- Hiring and Contractor in New York City
- Interview Questions To Ask Before Hiring
- How long have you been in business?
- How many projects does your firm manage at once?
- Who will be my project manager?
- Personally, how much time will you spend on my renovation?
- Can I have three references?
- Is this an estimate or the price?
- What’s the biggest challenge in my project that could keep you from completing on time and budget?
- How many hours per day will you work on my project?
- How do you handle changes once the project is underway?
- How will you invoice me?
- How to Get Along with Your Contractor
- Top Scams and How You Can Avoid Them
Hiring and Contractor in New York City
Many people ask friends and families for recommendations. Does one name keep popping up? This is an excellent sign. Ask what type of work was done, since a contractor may be proficient in one area; but lacking in others.
This is a good start, but insufficient. You can see if the contractor is part of the The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), whose members are required to follow a Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.
Beyond asking for a referral, you can use a website such as Angie’s List, which has ratings and reviews. Angie’s List, along with places such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Costco, provides a level of comfort since they guarantee the work.
Those workers that knock on people’s doors are not the right way to find a contractor. While not all are crooks, promising to do the work cheap from the leftover material is a well-known scam.
Now that you have your list of names, it is important to do your homework.
You need to come prepared and know what to ask. First, ensure that the contractor is licensed and insured (workers’ compensation claims; property damage, and personal liability). It is essential to ask what type of work they have done. You may be able to glean if they like certain jobs better than other ones.
In this area, experience counts. Find out how long the contractor has been in business, and, while you’re at it, there should be a business card with a permanent address.
Other questions include if they have previously done a job your size. Perhaps he/she has done a bunch of small jobs, but yours would be the biggest one ever. It may be too large based on his capabilities and resources. At the very least, this should prompt further questions.
There are also more in-depth questions you should ask. You want to know how many projects he/she has going on at the same time; along with finding out more about the subcontractors he/she uses, including the length of the working relationship.
Lastly, you should ask and receive a list of references. Ideally, these are recent, and the work is similar to the job you are contemplating. Even ask if you can see a current work site.
The more references you have, the better. There are fundamental questions to ask, such as if he/she started and ended on time. Was the job done within the budget? Did the workers clean up after themselves?
Some people may even be willing to show you the work. If so, this is a golden opportunity not to be passed up.
Aside from customers, you can ask the building inspector’s office to see if the contractors regularly meet code requirements, or if there is a consistent problem.
A payment schedule
A contractor should not expect the whole payment up front, nor should you part with the complete amount. It is reasonable to place a 10%-15% deposit, with increments paid based on certain milestones, which should be understood before the start of the job.
As for the final payment, you should not feel pressured. Make sure you are delighted with the work, even scheduling it after the last work is complete to ensure there are no issues that crop up.
Put it in writing
The work details, along with the payment schedule should be put in writing. The more detailed, the better it is for you. Not only does it protect you; but it also prevents misunderstanding. It should have the start date, completion date, description of the job, materials to be used (be specific), proof of liability insurance, total cost, and a payment schedule.
It looks so natural on the HGTV’s hit show, the Property Brothers. They convince someone to buy a fixer-upper, and always manage to complete the project on time and within the budget. In reality; unless you have a direct line to the Scott brothers, finding the right contractor is challenging. We hope we have provided a roadmap to make it easier.
Interview Questions To Ask Before Hiring
You’re renovating your New York apartment, and you’ve narrowed the contractor search down to three. Now’s when things start to get tricky because the firm you choose to oversee the process could make or break your renovation. Meaning, a great contractor will realize your vision, and get the job done on schedule and within budget. A poor choice could mean shoddy craftsmanship, unexplained costs, or an unfinished remodel.
Selecting the right person to manage your project is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Rule number one: be sure he or she has experience renovating in New York City. What’s more; your building will require a pre-determined amount of liability insurance. Any contractor who will perform work must meet the minimum for your particular building.
Once these two key points are addressed, ask these ten questions before you hire anyone to run the show.
How long have you been in business?
If you don’t know this already, this should be one of the first questions you’ll ask. Companies that have been around longer not only have more experience, but they’re less likely to scam and “go out of business after receiving a large deposit.” (This happens in New York City, and in other places too.)
How many projects does your firm manage at once?
You’ll want to be certain that your contractor doesn’t take on too much of a workload, so he has plenty of time to dedicate to your apartment. Other than a contractor who’s MIA, there’s nothing worse than one who’s spread himself too thin.
Who will be my project manager?
Will you be meeting with the actual manager, or will he designate a site super? The latter is more likely. Either way, you’ll want to feel comfortable with the person who’s calling the shots. Meet him or her before making your final choice.
Personally, how much time will you spend on my renovation?
Even if he or she is not the person on site, you’ll want confirmation that the owner of the company will be involved and check in at least weekly.
Can I have three references?
Always ask for references to get the opinions of past clients. Come up with a list of questions for them too, such as, “Would you hire him or her again?”
Is this an estimate or the price?
Know how you stand on pricing from the very beginning. The more specific you are from the get-go, the less likely you will discover surprises later on. If your quote is indeed just an estimate, find out how much more the final price will be within 20 percent.
What’s the biggest challenge in my project that could keep you from completing on time and budget?
If your would-be contractor has any doubts, get them during the interview process. Every remodeler has strengths and weaknesses; be sure that he or she feels confident and experienced enough to handle your redesign.
How many hours per day will you work on my project?
You should expect sub-contractors to be at your project working most every day between business hours (9 am and 5 pm, except for weekends). Confirm this before you start. If no one is working, your renovation isn’t getting finished.
How do you handle changes once the project is underway?
Ask anyone you interview how he or she will bill for changes and the process for making a change. Do you tell the sub-contractor, or email him or her directly? Find out the protocol now, so that when you’re knee-deep in construction, you can nip any faux pas in the bud.
How will you invoice me?
Invoice terms should clearly be stated in the proposal, but in case they’re not, you’ll want to know if you’ll be billed monthly or at the end of each project phase. Be sure the terms are spelled out.
How to Get Along with Your Contractor
Choosing the person or company who will manage your renovation project is a tall order, especially in New York City where construction pros are a dime a dozen. After you’ve carefully selected the candidates; completed interviews, and reviewed their estimates, you’ll finally choose which contractor will oversee your project and be a part of your life for the next several months –– or years, depending on the scope.
During this process, think of the contractor and yourself as partners in the project. Staying on the same page is crucial, so your remodel can get finished on time and within the established budget. Along the way, try and keep these five tips in mind and hopefully, you’ll see eye to eye and avoid potential bumps in the road.
Establish boundaries from the get-go
Your contractor and his sub-contractors will probably be spending more time in your residence than you. It’s important to establish boundaries early on. Let him know what’s acceptable and what’s off limits. Perhaps you’re okay with workers taking lunch breaks in your apartment, but you’re not okay with smoke breaks. Be clear from the beginning about every last detail, so no stone goes unturned.
Communicate openly and regularly
You’ll want to stay in communication throughout the process and make sure your relationship remains in good standing until the final punch-list item is completed. Schedule weekly meetings to review things like the job schedule, delays, or issues with materials; delivery, etc. Treat your relationship with your contractor like you do your marriage. The more you talk to the person and keep the lines of communication open, the less likely you’ll experience friction and disagreements.
Pay on time
If your contractor delivers the goods, expect to pay on time. Decide on the payment schedule at the start of the job and stick to it. Not only does he need to eat; but his subs will as well. Don’t withhold money unless the contractor isn’t holding up his end of the deal. And then, it’s best to nip any issues in the bud and confront him immediately. This apartment or townhouse is your home, but this job is his livelihood.
Let him do the job
Don’t micromanage your contractor. You hired him for his expertise and probably also because you trusted him over any of the others you interviewed. Let him work, and follow his lead. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but create a list to review during your weekly meetings rather than bombarding him daily.
Be sure every detail is in writing
Besides your cost estimate and scope of work, be sure any revisions are written down as well. Change orders are an everyday aspect of construction projects and having records will keep the remodel running smoothly and help to avoid errors.
Make sure the contract includes a mediation clause. More than likely; you’ll never need to use it, but knowing how disputes will be handled legally should something go wrong will make you sleep easier at night.
Top Scams and How You Can Avoid Them
Almost every year you’ll see a news article about a shady contractor that scammed people out of thousands of dollars. The vast majority of contractors are honest, hardworking people who take great pride in their work but it only takes a few bad apples to spoil it for everyone.
Most of the tactics these scammers use are tried and tested methods. Here are the five most common and how you can avoid them.
Bait and Switch
This is perhaps the easiest and most common of them all. Usually; it starts with a newspaper ad or flyer that advertises a service you need at a ridiculously low price. The customer gets it and believes they’ve got a great price, but then the switch comes in. The contractor informs you that your roof, air ducts or whatever it is are in far worse condition than the average. He then quotes you a price that’s hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the advertised price.
Protect yourself by having a contract written which states the scope of the work. If something is too good to be true, it probably is.
The next most common ruse is when a contractor asks for an upfront payment; either partial or full before work has even begun. One of two things then happen, he either disappears with your deposit or does a half-effort job because he knows you can’t fire him since he’s sitting on a large chunk of your money.
A small upfront payment is perfectly reasonable, but this should never exceed 10%. All other fees can be done according to milestones that you’ve agreed upon in a written contract.
This type of scam usually starts with the phrase “I was in the neighborhood and noticed your roof shingles need repairs” – or some variant. They offer to do the job with ‘extra materials’ from another job which are often either fake or inadequate.
Never hire contractors on the spot or without any references, no matter how good the deal seems. If problems do arise after they’ve left, you can be pretty sure you won’t find them again.
Taking someone at their word
On first meeting the contractor he’s very agreeable and polite with understanding what you need. He even suggests some changes of his own that will improve the final design. But then these suggestions don’t make it into the final contract; you brush it off because you had such a cordial understanding. Later you notice that these suggestions have not been built. On confronting the contractor; he informs you that these extras were not included in the final price so you’ll need to pay more to redo them.
Unfortunately; there is little you can do about this from a legal standpoint since you signed a contract that didn’t include these extras. Always ensure that everything is included in the agreement and any changes are added before work starts.
Be wary contractors that try to use pressure tactics to make you sign a contract and pay immediately. This can be used in conjunction with the other scams to get you to sign before checking references. Fortunately, under state and federal law there is a mandatory three-day ‘cooling-off’ period that allows contracts to be canceled even after they’ve been signed.
In New York, the cooling-off period does not begin until the customer has received a “Notice of Cancelation” form. Until this form is received the customer can cancel the sale by notifying the contractor in any manner at any time.