Get it in Writing – A Contractor Speaks About Construction Contracts

A written contract be between you (the homeowner) and the contractor is an absolute MUST when you hire someone to do any kind of home remodeling or home renovation.  I have heard from many people that have hired contractors and never get a signed contract.  That absolutely blows my mind.  Construction is a very rough business and things don’t always turn out they way there were planned.  Having a detailed contract will help keep both parties informed of all expectations and scope of work.  A contract should include a your name and address, the contractors name and address, a project description, building specifications (this is the material and brand name of products the contractor will use when building your new home remodel project), warranty information, and general information regarding workmanship guidelines and building code procedures.  I would advise against signing a one page hand written estimate.  There just won’t be enough detail in that estimate when push comes to shove.  If the contractor hasn’t taken the time to have his own agreement or contract typed up with company logo and contact information, then they might run his business in the same manner (taking short cuts).  If any contractor tells you that permits are not required, RUN!  The City of San Antonio requires a building permit if you are adding more than 100 square feet or, moving walls or doors.  A homeowner can apply for general repairs permit themselves and hire subcontractors to do the work.  Plumbers and electricians are required to pull their permits separately.  A simple visit to your local city government or website can answer your questions.   A line item cost breakdown should also be included in the construction contract.  This will breakdown the project by line items so you can see how much the electrical will cost, plumbing, drywall, painting, roofing, etc.  If your contractor gives a big number with no description or explanation of how and where that money is going, I would use caution.  These are all red flags that you should probably not use this particular contractor for your home renovation project.  Have the documents reviewed by an attorney before you sign.  This may cost you a couple hundred dollars, but can save you thousands later.

How do I find a good contractor?

Ask friends, family members, neighbors or co-workers who have done home remodeling projects and find out who they used.  If at all possible, go to personally see the kind of work the contractor did.  I get plenty of referrals from former clients in San Antonio. That is the ultimate “pat on the back” is when Rhino Design Build gets a referral.  Go online and check out the contractor’s business rating with the Better Business Bureau. Check to see if that contractor has had any bad press or lawsuits filed against the company and ask them about it.  Unfortunately, it happens in this business, but talk to the contractor and see how he answers your question.  If he is open and honest about the situation, that is a good sign, but if he avoids the questions or denies them…I think you can fill in the blank.”  Danny Garcia, owner of Rhino Design Build in San Antonio, Texas.

At the end of the day, a contract is really only worth the paper it is printed on.  If a project goes south and you are forced to file a lawsuit, how much money are you going to have to spend to prove you are right.  A contractor can easily close down his doors and start up another company the next day.  Drafting a contract is the start of your relationship with a contractor. In working out the contract details, it will really show you whether this person is someone you can work with over the course of the home remodeling project. If the contractor is difficult to deal with at this stage, just imagine what it will be like when he/she has your money.  Having a written agreement before hand will tell you a little about how the contractor does business.  Planning ahead and doing some investigating of your own can save you lots of time and money.  Does the contractor have a website?  Does he have insurance?  Does he have references?  Is he/she licensed with your local city government?  Does the contractor have a corporation set up or just operating as a DBA?  These are all questions that you need answers to BEFORE you hire any contractor.