‘Inevitably going to have changes’ — Tips, warnings for hiring a home contractor

WASHINGTON — Living through a remodeling project can challenge the patience of homeowners, but a D.C.-based consumers’ group has tips to help prevent problems.

“The most common compliant we get about remodelers is they just do lousy work,” said Kevin Brasler, executive editor at Checkbook.org. “Another complaint is the delays. There are so many delays.”

Washington Consumer’s Checkbook has advice to help make a home remodel or renovation as painless as possible.

Due diligence

When deciding on a contractor, Brasler said you should speak with references asking whether the work went well and if there was good communication. Brasler said interviewing customers the contractor worked with five or ten years ago will reveal whether the work has “held up.”

Review your thoughts and plans with the contractor in detail to see how thoughtful they are about your project. They may have ideas you didn’t think about.

Get it in writing

Proposals should be specific, detailing prices and payment schedules, how long warranties are for, and what they cover. Brasler warns, however, you might want to set flexible terms on start and finish times because changes are inevitable. You might change your mind, for example, about certain fixtures or paint colors.

“Proposals should allow for those types of changes,” Brasler advised. “There are going to be estimates in terms of when they can finish, but at least have them put in writing that the schedule is the essence of the contract.”

Avoid up-front payments for projects or supplies

“By withholding as much payment as you can, you’re hanging on to your leverage, you’re making sure that the job, or at least that part of the job is done right, and that you’re not paying for that part of the job until you’re happy with it,” Brasler counseled.

Keep communicating

During your project, Brasler said it’s not unreasonable to talk with the contractor daily.

“And, deal promptly with any surprises,” he said. “There’s almost inevitably surprises with these types of projects. Whenever there’s a dispute, try to seek a middle ground.”

Through a special arrangement with Washington Consumers’ Checkbook, WTOP.com readers can see Checkbook ratings on D.C. area remodelers and general contractors for a limited time.

Consumers’ Checkbook/Center for the Study of Services is an independent, nonprofit consumer organization founded in 1974. It has been an innovator in providing information to help consumers make smarter choices for more than 40 years.

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