The biggest mistake that homeowners make when hiring a contractor is missing or vague job requirements.
Hiring a contractor with poor job requirements leaves an open door for serious project problems that include:
- Deceptive bidding practices
- Difficulties in tracking and managing project costs
- Disagreements between homeowner and contractor that lead to legal action or mediation
- Significant cost overruns
- Installation of substandard or inferior materials
- Significant schedule delays
- Inferior work quality
The following summarizes a series of events that turned a dream remodel ($70,000+ budget) into a big disappointment for the homeowner:
In a major renovation project, the homeowner listed two of the 30+ tasks in the project as:
- “Install better quality, double pane, low-e windows”
- “Install oak hardwood flooring in living room, to match existing hallway flooring”
The list was used to solicit bids from contractors. Fixed price bids were collected from several contractors. The homeowner signed with a mid-priced bidder that had good references in the neighborhood. One week after work began, the first problem surfaced.
The homeowner said she had finally chosen the type of windows they wanted – clad wood casement windows from Anderson. The contractor said that the window “allowance” in his bid called for a vinyl sliding window from a local manufacturer that he had used in the past. These windows were “completely unacceptable” to the homeowner. The contractor told the homeowner that there would be a $9,100 upcharge for the Anderson windows and $2,570 for labor – and – there would be an order delay of 4 weeks for the new windows. The homeowner was staggered at the $11,670 surprise; she also began to question the motivations and integrity of the contractor. A lawyer friend advised the homeowner that the vague window specification used in the written contract provided no support for cost concessions on the premium windows and the best she could do was negotiate the labor upcharge.
In a heated debate with the contractor, the homeowner won a concession from the contractor for the full amount of installation ($2,570). This left the contractor frustrated, angry and suspicious of being “grinded” by the owner on the rest of the project. He vowed to do the minimum work necessary to complete the job.
The second problem arose when the homeowner inspected the installed wood flooring. The floor was “wavy” and had several soft spots. The contractor claimed that the floor was installed per manufacturer’s recommendations and the written agreement. Another heated debate followed. The homeowner was tiring of the tension, animosity and schedule delays. Legal action was considered, but ultimately not pursued. The homeowner wanted the project done and was willing to settle for the “imperfect floor”.
Poor communication of requirements led to cost overruns and schedule delays. Perhaps most importantly, it destroyed the goodwill that is often the difference between an ordinary, average job and a job that is truly well done.
To get good work at a fair price, and keep a productive vibe throughout the project, it is essential that:
- All material and layout decisions be made before the contractor hiring process begins
- The written agreement with the contractor spell out EVERY work task, material choice and quality requirement. Make no assumptions!
Homewyse has a number of project decision templates to help you understand your choices – see the Kitchen Remodeling Guide for a sample project decision list. Find quality checklists and specifications for a large number of specific home tasks here; these requirements can be included in written agreements to help you clearly communicate your quality requirements for a job.