5 Things You Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor

by Alli

Having my bathrooms gutted and renovated was the first major remodeling project I’ve tackled.  Most of my renovations have included DIY painting, replacing a light or something relatively simple. Boy, if I could turn back time . . . So that you won’t make the same mistakes I did, here are 5 Things You Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor (even if it’s just a renovation and not a new build).

It was my husband’s idea to hire the particular contractor that did the work on our bathrooms.  Yes, I’m throwing him under the bus! He was a relative of a friend (first mistake) and had been in the business for years.  Little did we know that his license had expired and that he had suffered major health problems.  This would have been helpful info, but I blame no one but my husband . .  . I mean . . . my husband and me.

I learned these 5 things the hard way! You don't have to. 5 Things You Should Know Before Hiring A Contractor

5 Things You Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor

1. Make sure he/she is licensed.

You can find out here!  In the state of SC, a contractor that has an expired license can only do $200 worth of work.  This info would have been helpful.  Too bad I found out afterward.

2.  Don’t assume anything. Get it all in writing!

I was handed an estimate written on a sheet of paper that had been torn out of a notebook.  It had “between $K and $K.”  The contractor then said, “Maybe a little more or a little less.”  Later, when he tried to charge me more than DOUBLE, I referred back to the little more part. Be absolutely sure that your little and his little means the same thing.

A contract should include start and completion dates, information on applicable building permits and fees. The contract should exclude you from liability in the event that the contractor fails to pay subcontractors. (Yes, that happened to us, too!)

My 2-week completion date turned into 8 weeks before we parted ways.

3.  Find out who the subcontractors will be.

The subs did horrible work (except for the tile guy).  The sheetrock guys were the worse I’ve ever seen. The plumber didn’t line up the shower head with the other fixtures.  (Breathe, Alli, Breathe)  The electrician didn’t place the above-the-mirror light fixture flush with the wall.  I could run my entire hand between the base of the light and the wall.  I had to show them how to fix it!!

Find out how much your contractor is going to make off of each sub.  For instance, our tile guy was paid $1,750 to tile two small bathrooms.  We were charged $2,200 by the contractor.  Our contractor made $450.00 for nothing. I know this is common practice, but I think it stinks.

4.  Do a Background Check! 

Even (especially) if a friend has given the contractor a glowing recommendation, do a background check. Make sure that the contractor has a current state license and adequate insurance coverage.

5.  Speak up!  If you don’t like the way something looks, tell the contractor.

Not only was I robbed (you can read about it here) by one of the contractor’s crew members, I feel like I was robbed by the contractor because of the shoddy work.  When I’m paying someone to do a job, I want it done right.  I don’t want to (very nicely) show the contractor that you can see the sheetrock nails and tape on one section of the “finished” painted bathroom wall and be told, “well, you know this is going to put us behind.”  I don’t want to point out that the ceiling needs another coat of paint because you can see that someone forgot to add a second coat when they were cutting in. Do it right the first time and problem solved!

Eventually, we had to part ways with the contractor with one finished bathroom (if you can call it that – my son-in-law is redoing much of the finish work) and 1/4 of the master bathroom that we had paid out the first $4,000 towards.  We purchased the new tubs, toilets, vanities, tile, grout, etc. ourselves, so basically we were paying for labor, sheetrock (not expensive), mud and nails.

This has been an experience I never want to repeat.  The next major work I have done on my house will require a legal contract upfront and I’ll know all the ends and outs.

I’m just going to chalk this one up to “you live and learn” and move on. At least I’ll never make the same mistakes again.

Hiring a Contractor - 5 Things You Should Know

Have you ever had a renovation go terribly wrong?  I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.