So You Want to Hire a Contractor to Renovate Your Place

What They Don’t Tell You

The first thing to do is: TAKE YOUR TIME and be a SLEUTH.

Don’t rush

Don’t rush into hiring a contractor right away. Shop Around! If you can possibly see it take up to 6 months before you really set yourself on one contractor.

Get A Copy of the Building Codes

Now go and get a copy of the Building Codes for your area and read them. Study them and make sure that the contractor you hired goes by those codes. Go to your county’s government website and they should have it on-line or you can order it. If you don’t have a county website then go to the County Planning Commisioner’s Office in your State and in the county that you live in and they will have it. You will have to go there anyway to put in an application for a building permit. Get that for EVERYTHING that you are doing–

Things that need applications for are: Plumbing, Electric, Structural changes in and outside of your home, including decks. Some Codes are so vague that it is hard to tell if you need a permit or not–get one to be on the safe side because if you don’t have a permit and they come and inspect it they can make you tear it up.

Requirements for permits–a floor plan or blueprints of your house as it is before you do anything to it and then a drawing of what you intend to do with those dimensions and rooms, fixtures, addition or deletions. They want everything in it’s place so when they inspect they don’t have to try and figure out what you meant in your drawings.

Make sure you get an Inspector that has been there a long time–over 2 years! We replaced our worn out fireplace with a brand new one and put it on the outside of our home and the first inspector that worked there for many, many years didn’t pass it. Then a week later a younger, less informed, inspector came and he passed it. The more informed one was out of town for a few weeks. So we thought everything was fine until the more informed inspector came out and re-inspected everything the younger one did in the weeks that he was gone–and it didn’t pass again. It took four times before that fireplace met code. So make sure you get someone that is or has been there or in your county for many years. They are on YOUR side–really they are.Make a contract

Make a contract of what you want done to your home and be as specific as possible because some contractors will go to the letter on this and if you make a mistake of what you want and then try to change it later you might have problems you didn’t want to deal with. Break it down into sections. Make sure there’s a place in your contract that states that you can change your mind–because there will be times when things don’t look right and you will want to make changes accordingly. It took 4 drawings to get the kitchen right and that everything met code before we settled on what we wanted versus what we were allowed to have. Another thing to put in the contract–they can’t leave the job before the last thing is completely finished and up to your specifications. Somehow make them pay for whatever is not finished when they leave or before they leave te job. You might have to get a lawyer to help you write that contract with correct wording. The law states that you don’t pay the last thrid of the contract price until it is completely finished and up to your specifications and it all meets code. We didn’t pay our contractor the last third of the contract price and he didn’t finish anything. He walked away. He got off scott-free because we were too trusting and we didn’t know the things that we now know today.


Advertise and ask for many, not just the three they advice you to get, references from people whom you know. Don’t take them at face value either. Please get at the very least 3 to come look at your home. Six is a better number to work with. Look at the various contractors that come to your home. Read their body language–even if it take you to learn about body languages. Listen to how they speak of their work and what they want to do to your home. Get all their credentials first and please make sure they are legible. Tell them you will call back later. Don’t let them push you into making a decision you are not ready for We had one contractor call us back everyday to see if we were going to hire them. We didn’t in the end because they were too pushy. We understand that they have other work and customers, but it was OUR house and home they were going to work on. We didn’t want someone to rush the job.Do The Homework

Now it is your job to do the homework for each of those contractors. Don’t get lazy or think that because so and so had their house done by that contractor that he is on the up and up. This all comes from our experiences and we are just passing them on to you. Those things that we had contracted for this contractor to do have yet to be completey finished and it has been 6 years since the start of the project..We have done alot of it ourselves along with fixing his many mistakes.

We got references from people whom we knew and the one that stuck out was the one that our local Bank had referred us too. So we thought that this guy must be good because a highly rated bank and the bank that we used gave us such a good reference. Oh yes we talked to others who also had work done by him according to his references. So after about a week of checking up on him we decided to go with him He told us of all the things that he would do and how it would be very nice when he finished everything including the trim work and painting. We were ecstatic and he started right away with the new bathroom and the new jet tub that we had purchased from Lowes. What you will need prior to the starting.

Buy a composition book or a accounting book or both. Another good purchase would be an accordian file box.

Use them as a log of when and what was done and when it was done and if there were any phone calls and to whom and the times and dates of such. Make sure you keep all your receipts and e-mails. Keep copies of your checks and put them in this log and write in this log what that check paid for, when it was written, whom it was written and when it was cashed. Some contractors will sub-contract and have you pay for the material and the work. It is best to have a log of all these transactions. This contractor tried to tell the Better Business Bureau that we didn’t pay the sub-contractor who we bought the cinder blocks and cement from but he did. We were glad we had kept those receipts. This contractor also tried to tell them that he bought all the lumber and materials for the job, but we had kept all the Lowes Receipts for that too. We also had a problem when someone tried to read all the transactions and payments on the Contractor’s Billings and had a hard time figuring out what we actually paid for. It would have been much easier if we made a log of what the checks paid for at the time we paid it instead of trying to decipher the contractor’s paperwork later. Take plenty of pictures of before and after. Try to get the Contractor and his help in those pictures. You never know if you will need them later and I hope that you don’t. I am not kidding! Do it! We had no idea that this contractor was going to be so difficult later on in the process of renovating our home. These things you will need if by chance you have to go to a lawyer. You might also want to make a scrap book later on with everything. Oh and make copies of those receipts because they only hold print for a few months and then become illegible. Something else they don’t tell you–Lowes will only take certain items back before a 1 year period of time. The sooner you get the things you want to replace or just not use the better off you are. Take the receipt that corresponds to the items bought and they will credit your account If you don’t have a receipt you will just get a gift card with that amount on it.

Go to The Better Business Bureau

Send them all the correspondences you have including any e-mails and the logs of your phone calls. They will be like a mediator between you and the contractor. They can’t actually do anything but at least you will have your case stated in a government agency if you need more proof. They will also put his name on the their bad persons list. You will also get a case number and a case worker.

What they don’t tell you.

No one will tell you these things–you just have to stumble upon them yourself as we did–so to lessen your heartache at the expense of your renovations being completed and if not what you have to do –I will tell you them.

A Business License is NOT the only license a contractor needs to have. He also needs to have a Contractor’s License and he has to be registered on the State that you live in’s Contractors Board. He needs to have Insurance and it needs to be up to date. Don’t feel shy in going through his medical records and any other records that he might have that had/has anything even remotely to do with his business. Go to the link (in link box below) for your Contractor’s Board and look up the name or he owner of the contractor’s that you wish to hire. Make sure you take a look at your state’s licensing requirements. If you have to talk with someone there–be forewarned it will take up to two weeks before someone will call you back. We made many calls to these people before we got a call back.

If they are not listed there DO NOT HIRE THAT CONTRACTOR. Don’t assume that he has one and it just didn’t get registered or posted on the board. OK what they don’t tell you and this is VERY IMPORTANT:

If this contractor has ever had a license and the years are different and he is still doing work and his license does not show up as current on that Contractor’s Board and he screws up your contract and doesn’t finish the work in that contract that you have with him–they will NOT go after him for doing work while not having a Contractor’s License. Silly isn’t it. A doctor will get jail time but a contractor will just be loose to do it to others. Let me tell you or not how angry that made us when the contractor that worked on our home walked off scott-free. We had NO idea that this license was needed. We never had someone else do renovations to our home. The sad part of it all–NO ONE, entity or Organization, would tell us that this was also needed. It was left up to us to know what questions to ask and whom to ask them of. You would be astonished at just how many people don’t know these things and how many contractor’s get away with these things. Some like ours play on our compassion and emotions–NEVER, EVER do something for them that isn’t in the contract and Don’t make friends of them until they are completely finished the work they are to do. I can’t stress this enough! Don’t think tat your generosity will get them to do their job if they just happen to start making excuses.Watch them!

Most contracting firms will not need this, but then again we didn’t think we needed this either and got burned. You will need to take time off of work or somehow make arrangements for you to be there when they are there. Make sure they are doing things up to code–don’t assume they know what they are doing in that department. If they don’t like to be watched and you learn comments about that–then they have something to hide and take it from there. Some will not meet code to save them the needed hassle and to allow themselves to make more profit from you. Our contractor told us that he never used foul language–well the things that came out of his mouth on a daily and second basis was nothing but foul. I was glad that I didn’t have kids around. If things go wrong

If things go wrong and you need to hire a lawyer. I sincerely hope that you NEVER have to do this. This is where all those notes and that notebook and pictures, receipts and everything else associated with your renovation project comes into play. To hire a lawyer in a Contractor Versus Contractee it will cost you a bundle up front. The lawyer that we had said that we had a good case and that we possibly could win–only it would cost us $5,000.00 up front for his fee and more if we didn’t win our case. Be VERY Careful that you never have to go this far. There are shysters in the Law field as well as contractors too. Sometimes it will seem like everyone wants your money. Remember ii is YOUR money and YOU decide who you are going to give it too. Don’t think of it as only money and you can replace it–true it is money, but can you afford to pay for something over and over again and it still not be finished? It is YOUR money–not theirs until you give it to them.

I hope that I haven’t scared you into doing it all yourself, but hope that I have given you enough information help you in the process and not get burned like we did. This will also allow you to know what was done to your home so that later you will know when to replace or upgrade things that were on an expiration date of sorts. For instance the roofing that we hired a Good contractor to do has a life span of about 5 years–you can get them up to 10 or more years depending on what knd of money you have available for that. There will be other things like that you will need a reference for in your renovation projects. It is also a good idea to keep if you should ever want to make any changes to the renovations you have just done later or if anyone else that buys your house will. Think of it as a diary of your house.Being Your Own Contractor

You can choose to be your own contractor in most jurisdictions. You will have to ask the governing personnel in your area what the requirements for that are. We have done some of the small stuff ourselves.
See Our House Before and after Renovations and other information
After You Choose Your Contractor-Now What

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