Spring is a great time of year to begin your home fix-up or remodeling project. If you need to hire a contractor to complete your project, you’ll want to get on their schedule as soon as possible.
Once the decision is made to add that garage, remodel the kitchen, replace the deck, or put on a new roof, most folks want to jump in and get ’er done. Unfortunately and too often, they jump in without a written plan or the management tools to assure success.
We respectfully submit the following advice about reducing risk by using written scopes of work, hiring legitimate contractors, and using written contracts.
WHOM YOU HIRE MATTERS
Grays Harbor has plenty of solid, talented and trustworthy builders. However, we do hear evidence of some who are neither trustworthy, nor competent. If you hire the wrong person or company you can risk losing your money-even twice, precious construction time, and sometimes even your house when things go wrong.
ALWAYS HIRE LICENSED, BONDED INSURED
For some this might seem basic, but we would be remiss if we didn’t reiterate: When hiring contractors always check that they are currently licensed, bonded and insured. It is important for your safety and for theirs! You can call Labor and Industries at (360) 533-8200 to check on a contractor’s credentials. Ask any contractor you are thinking of using for their license and bond information and make that call.
CREATING A SCOPE OF WORK
Before entering into a contract, it needs to be clear what you are asking the bidding contractors to do.
Using a simple example, like putting down a new floor or installing a new bathtub, it should be made clear what the job entails.
It is relevant to detail whether tearing up and removing the old stuff is included in the bid price. It is also relevant to know who is expected to move out the furniture, appliances, toilets, hot water tanks and the like and how much that will cost. Don’t forget about who gets to put it all back and what about that old tub or other construction debris? Are they going to haul it away or is it up to you?
If the sales tax is not shown on the bid is it included? Get it on the bid where you can see it along with any permits required for any portion of the work where they are required.
While this is a little job, you can see by the example that the devil is in the details and the details should be made known and put in writing so everybody knows what to do to get paid. A written scope of work should be the body of any bid proposal and gets signed by both parties even for small jobs like this example.
For more complex jobs, such as adding a room or fixing a foundation, you should develop a more detailed, written scope of work. It should outline exactly what you want done, even what materials and name brands you want used, quality, colors/sheens and texture choices, etc. should all be spelled out clearly.
Getting code handouts and permit advice from your building department can help you understand what the contractor must do to meet code requirements. It will also familiarize you with the terms used when describing the work and defining the finished product.
Use whatever it takes to convey your dream project: drawings, pictures or full blown prints. Do you need a designer or architect to best convey your dream project? They can save everyone involved a lot of headaches and maybe keep the project on time and in budget.
Once you are in control of the “what-I-want-built,” part, you will have something that each contractor can bid upon, equally, meaning they have the same description and specifications, time constraints and conditions.
Ideally, you will want to secure two or three qualified bids, or maybe you have a great history and satisfaction level with a contractor and only need the one.
In any case, having a “bid due date” will weed-out the casual bidder and show the others that you are serious.
Hopefully all competitive bids will come within 10 to 20 percent of each other.
When bids come in close to each other it usually means that the scope of work was clear and that you represented yourself and your project the same to each contractor. Now you are ready to make your choice.
DOES LOW BIDDER WIN?
The lowest bid isn’t always the best choice. The timing of the work, the best job referrals, the most complete, detailed and organized bid, willingness to work without a cash deposit, cost per man hour for finding unknowable (hidden from sight) damage and even your first impressions and inner comfort with a contractor are a few of the criteria you might use to make your best choice.
We like contractors that provide and use a written contract that protects both parties.
CONTRACTS KEY TO SUCCESS
Successful working relationships with most contractors are usually determined by being well prepared. That means good plans, a realistic and fully funded budget and mutual respect.
But even after a great plan and solid financing, the best of the legal glue that binds a well-intentioned contractor to the job is a detailed scope of work and a rock-solid written contract. That contract should at least describe what is going to happen, for how much, how long it will take and what will happen when either party fails to perform to the contract.
Maybe your project is more complicated and expensive, enough to want legal help creating a proper contract? We believe “An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure”. A good contract attorney can be very helpful toward providing preventative management practices and can increase the chances for a successful project for both parties.
GIVE US A CALL
We are not attorneys, but if you have preliminary, general questions on what a scope of work looks like or what a contract or a lien waiver might include, give us a call or stop by. The chat, like our HUD housing counseling, is free of charge, friendly and non-binding! Call us 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks® of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is the executive director. This is a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing for all residents of Grays Harbor County.
Do you have questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or becoming a homeowner? Call us at 533-7828, write us or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.