Problems With Contractors: The Warning Signs, and How to Spot Them

When working on a construction or remodeling project, there are many things that can go wrong. While it is not always the case, sometimes these problems arise from the unsavory practices of your contractor. It is important to be able to tell early on if you and your contractor are going to have problems, and there are quite a few ways to spot them before you get in too deep.

The first couple of meetings with a contractor can be very telling of the work relationship you may have. Were they on time for their meetings with you, and if not, did they call ahead to let you know when they would be there? This is a sign of respect for you and your time. If the contractor is routinely and excessively late, and does not take the time to call, it shows that they do not acknowledge your time to be as valuable as they should. Also, did they come prepared and did they listen? Of course, they will be there to provide you feedback on what you are looking for in your project, and will probably make suggestions to better your vision based on what is practical, realistic, and safe. However, your contractor should always listen to your project desires in full, and never brush them aside and tell you that they will only do it one way, or not let you participate fully in the decision-making process.

Before you start your project, you should make sure all the paperwork is clear and up-to-date. First, you must not only make sure that the contractor is licensed, but that the license and insurance will not expire before your project is completed. This could lead to heavy financial burdens for you if something goes wrong. Your contractor should also have all the permits for the project. Working without a permit or having you pull your own permit is simply not acceptable. Whoever pulls the permit is responsible for the work, and if your contractor is asking you to pull your own permit, they are putting a responsibility on you that is rightfully theirs. In addition, the contract regarding your project should be clear and have protection for both you and the contractor. You will most likely go through a sample contract or two before actually putting in dates and signing.

Communication, or the lack thereof, is another sign of a problem contractor. You should be able to easily and freely attain references at the onset of the process, as well as regular updates throughout the completion of your project. You should also be able to contact your contractor easily at any time, and have them return your calls in a reasonable amount of time. If the contractor seems elusive or secretive, and doesn’t want to share the details of the project with you, it may be a sign of more concerning problems to come.

The expectations of both parties should be communicated clearly at the onset of the project. Costs, materials, and deadlines should be predetermined before work begins. These decisions take time and you must be given an adequate period in which to consider your options. If your contractor seems pushy in their sales, gives you immediate pricing for larger projects, or forces you to make decisions too quickly, they may be trying to push something past you. Also, your contractor needs to follow the expectations and deadlines set forth. Any major deviations from the original plan, whether it be in time, materials, or pricing, should be put forth in writing and approved by you before they are made. If your contractor starts changing things without informing you first, and tells you that he will just calculate the costs later or not to worry now, you should start to worry. You have a right to know exactly what is going on during your project’s completion, and why changes need to be made.

Payment is also something to pay attention to. There should be a set schedule for when payments should be made and how much they should be. If your contractor starts to come to you for payments ahead of schedule, it could mean that you are financing other projects, and not just your own. It is also terribly unprofessional to do this. Another situation to be wary of is if employees or subcontractors come to you directly for their payment. You should never have to pay these parties unless it was specified in your contract, and this is a sign that you may be held responsible for much more than you actually owe in the future.

Finally, is your contractor present and involved in the process? Is there adequate supervision by him or another qualified individual on site? For smaller projects, this is not necessary, but there should always be competent field personnel who know what the project entails is and know how to read the plans. If there seems to be no consistency in the comings and goings of the employees, or if you were told there would be constant supervision by the top personnel and there isn’t, you should take note and talk to your contractor.

Not all of these problems in and of themselves are definitive proof that you are working with a problem contractor, but they are suspect. If your contractor is conducting their business with more than one of the issues listed above, then you should really start to be concerned. However, you should always talk to your contractor about a problem you have whether it is big or small. You have a right to feel comfortable about the work being done, and if you do not tell your contractor you have an issue, many times they might not even realize it is there. However, if you bring it to your contractor’s attention and they ignore or dismiss you, you should start looking for a new contractor.