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 the biggest hurdle is finding the right contractor and getting the job done. In an area that has long been ripe for rip-offs, 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 ready to make the hiring decision.
Included are essential questions to ask when interviewing contractors, how to get along with them when hired, and scams.
Tips for Hiring and Working with ContractorsTips for Hiring and Working with Contractors
Many people ask friends and families for recommendations. Does one name keep popping up?. A great sign. Ask what type of work was done; a contractor may be proficient in one area but lack others.
A good start, but insufficient. You can see if the contractor is part of The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). Their 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 and places such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Costco provide 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 essential 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 specific jobs better than other ones.
In this area, experience counts. Please 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 the contractor has done many 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 they have going on simultaneously, along with finding out more about the subcontractors they use, 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 worksite.
The more references you have, the better. There are fundamental questions to ask, such as if it 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 passed up.
Besides customers, you can ask the building inspector’s office to see if the contractors regularly meet code requirements or a consistent problem.
A contractors payment scheduleA contractors payment schedule
A contractor should not expect the total payment upfront, nor should you part with the whole amount. It is reasonable to place a 10%-15% deposit, with increments paid based on certain milestones, which should be understood before starting the job.
As for the final payment, you should not feel pressured. Ensure you are delighted with the work, even scheduling it after completing the last task to ensure no issues crop up.
Detail the scope of work in writingDetail the scope of work in writing
The scope of work details, along with the payment schedule, should be put in writing. 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. The more detailed, the better it is for you. Not only does it protect you, but it also prevents misunderstanding.
Concluding thoughtsConcluding thoughts
Renovating looks so natural on 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 HiringInterview 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. A poor choice could mean shoddy craftsmanship, unexplained costs, or an unfinished remodel. Meaning, a great contractor will realize your vision and get the job done on schedule and within budget.
Selecting the right person to manage your project is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Rule number one: be sure they have experience renovating in New York City. Any contractor who will perform work must meet the minimum for your particular building. What’s more, your building will require a pre-determined amount of liability insurance.
Once these two key points are addressed, ask these ten questions before hiring anyone to run the show.
How long have you been in business?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?How many projects does your firm manage at once?
You’ll want to be sure 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?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 them before making your final choice.
Personally, how much time will you spend on my renovation?Personally, how much time will you spend on my renovation?
Even if they are not the person on-site, you’ll want confirmation that the company owner will be involved and check-in at least weekly.
Can I have three references?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?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 within budget?What’s the biggest challenge in my project that could keep you from completing on time and within budget?
If your would-be contractor has any doubts, get them during the interview process. Every remodeler has strengths and weaknesses; ensure that they feel confident and experienced enough to handle your redesign.
How many hours per day will you work on my project?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). If no one is working, your renovation isn’t getting finished. Confirm this before you start.
How do you handle changes once the project is underway?How do you handle changes once the project is underway?
Ask anyone you interview how they will bill for changes and the process for making a change. Do you tell the sub-contractor or email them 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?How will you invoice me?
Invoice terms should be 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 ContractorHow to Get Along with Your Contractor
Choosing the person or company to 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 finish 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-goEstablish boundaries from the get-go
Your contractor and his subcontractors will probably be spending more time in your residence than you. It’s essential 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 regularlyCommunicate openly and regularly
Treat your relationship with your contractor like you do your marriage. Schedule weekly meetings to review things like the job schedule, delays, or issues with materials, delivery, etc. You’ll want to stay in communication throughout the process and ensure your relationship remains in good standing until the final punch-list items are completed. The more you talk to the person and keep communication lines open, the less likely you’ll experience friction and disagreements.
Pay contractors on timePay contractors 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 jobLet him do the job
Don’t micromanage your contractor. You hired him for his expertise and probably also because you trusted him over any 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.Be sure every detail is in writing.
Besides your cost estimate and scope of work, be sure any revisions also were written down. Change orders are an everyday aspect of construction projects, and having records will keep the remodel running smoothly and help avoid errors.
Make sure the contract includes a mediation clause. You’ll never need to use it, but knowing how disputes are handled legally should something go wrong will make you sleep easier at night.
Top Contractor Scams and How to Avoid ThemTop Contractor Scams and How to 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 SwitchBait and Switch
Perhaps the most natural and most common of them all. Usually, it starts with a newspaper ad or flyer that advertises a service you need at a meager price. The customer gets it and believes they’ve got a fantastic 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.
Upfront paymentUpfront payment
The next most common ruse is when a contractor asks for upfront payment, either partial or full, before work has begun. One of two things then happens 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.
Extra MaterialsExtra Materials
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, a job/contract which is 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 a contractor at their wordTaking a contractor 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 on, you notice that these suggestions; have not been built. On confronting the contractor, he informs you that these extras are not included in the final price, so you’ll need to pay more to redo them.
Unfortunately, you can do little about this from a legal standpoint since you signed a contract that didn’t include these extras. Always ensure that everything discussed; be contained within the agreement; any changes must be added before work starts.
Limited-Time OffersLimited-Time Offers
Be wary of contractors that try to use pressure tactics to make you sign a contract and pay immediately. Contractors can use this in conjunction with the other scams to get you to approve before checking references.
Fortunately, under state and federal law, a mandatory three-day ‘cooling-off period allows contracts to be canceled even though 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, notifying the contractor in any manner at any time.