There are many joys of being a homeowner, but one of the downsides is repairs. Unless you are the most experienced of DIY handymen, you will eventually have to deal with a contractor or two, from electrical and plumbing to major remodels. Based on my experiences of owning several homes and even building my own, I have a few suggestions that might make the process less expensive and painful. These tips may also have relevance to how you deal with other contractors, such as furniture refurnishing, fencing, or swimming pool contractors.Educate Yourself on the General Principles
If the job is big enough to need a contractor, it's expensive enough to do a little homework. In fifteen minutes, any paint store can give you the basics of what you should look out for regarding home painting. Most large hardware stores, especially the big chains, will give you tips on everything from cabinet installation to adding rooms. The Internet is a fantastic source for information. The more you know, the better questions you can ask of potential contractors, and the better you can supervise.Get Multiple Bids
This is a staple, but still worth mentioning. Never get less than three bids for a job over $500 (or whatever you think is a significant amount), and more for jobs in the thousands. Do not necessarily take the lowest bid, but consider the other factors below.Check State Status as Well as References
Make certain the contractor has a current, clean license with the State Contractor's Board. Ask for his number, and check it out. This is more important than references, because he can't "cream" the State records, and he will have to be insured.Write a Clear Scope of Work
This includes talking with the contractor. On big jobs, do an "interview" process, because you are hiring for a major expenditure. You should know enough from Tip 1 to have a general idea of what needs to be done and what materials are needed, but talk with each contractor to get a good idea of what they think. This will not only educate you a lot more, but you'll get a sense of the contractor's general knowledge and competence. Make certain you know what jobs require a city/county permit, and who will get the permit (if it's the contractor, he will want to be paid for his time). When you decide on a contractor, have him write a detailed Scope of Work, with materials and payment schedule.Phase Payments
You know this: never pay the entire amount in advance. In most cases, 10 percent is a reasonable amount to get started. If the job is materials heavy and you don't know the contractor, agree to pay for the materials upon delivery to your house. As in Tip 4, tie each payment to a reasonable stage of job completion. Leave at least 15 percent as final payment after a "walk through" with the contractor upon completion - or, better yet, a city inspector if the job required permits.Oversee Progress
After all this education, you should know enough to look the work over at the end of each day and have some idea if it's been done right or not. For one-day jobs, pay weekend rates so you can be there to observe. If in any doubt, ask questions, or even pay an engineering company a quick inspection fee if the job is important enough. Don't skimp now and pay a lot more later to sue or have the work corrected.Threats
If for any reason you have a dispute with the contractor, go right to the State Board. A contractor may threaten you with a lien against your property, which in many states they can do with no justification. If you know you are in the right, don't be intimidated by them; liens can rebound on the contractor if not justified. Physical threats are obviously illegal. Know your rights!
I don't mean to scare you off. Many contractors are honest, and most do the best job they can. But many are unscrupulous. They prey best on people who have no idea of all of the above, especially what the job normally entails and their rights if it goes wrong. Don't be that person; have a happy repair job!
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