As survivors of hurricanes Hermine and Matthew begin repairing and rebuilding their damaged homes and businesses, it is important to evaluate contractors carefully before committing to one. Before and after you’ve settled on the best contractor for the job, there are steps you can take to help avoid some common pitfalls.
- Conduct research and check references. Consider hiring a contractor you know and trust. Otherwise, check with friends, neighbors or former customers who have used a contractor to see if they were satisfied with the work done. To find contractors in your area, visit the Florida Home Builders Association website at http://fhba.com.
- Get at least three written estimates. This is the minimum recommended. Compare and ask about details, if you find unexpected variations in price and work to be carried out.
- Don’t do business with someone who knocks on your door for business, offers discounts, pressures for an immediate decision, only accepts cash, asks you to pay everything up-front or expects you to get the required building permits.
- Don’t fall for a loan scam, or let anyone pressure you into signing documents you haven’t read or that have blank spaces to be filled in after you sign.
- Don’t deed your property or agree to financing through your contractor without shopping around and comparing loan terms.
- Verify the contractor is properly licensed and insured. Ask for the contractor’s state-registered or certified license.
- You can check the Florida Construction Industry Licensing Board (CILB) website at www.myfloridalicense.com and search for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, or call the CILB offices at 850/487-1395.
- Check if the contractor (and subcontractors, if any) are insured for liability and worker’s compensation. If not, you will be liable in case of accidents or damages.
- Insist on a written contract. Make sure the contract is clear and concise and includes all the details of the work to be performed, owner and contractor responsibilities, permits to be obtained, payment schedules, delivery details, materials and terms for contract termination and cancellation.
- Make sure the project is properly permitted at the local building authority in order to avoid being fined, have the project stopped, or both. Also, keep in mind the contractor should be responsible for obtaining the appropriate permits.
- Protect yourself by asking the subcontractors and suppliers for a lien release or lien waiver, since state laws might allow them to file a “mechanic’s lien” against your home to satisfy their unpaid bills, forcing you to sell your home to pay them.
- Make payments contingent upon completion of work as established in the contract –this way, if work isn’t going according to schedule, payments are also delayed.
After you hire a contractor:
- Try to limit your down payment. A reasonable down payment is 30 percent of the total cost of the project, to be paid upon initial delivery of materials.
- Don’t pay cash. Use a credit card or a check instead. Avoid on-the-spot cash payments, don’t let payments get ahead of work completed, and don’t pay the full cost of the job up-front. Find information about financing larger projects at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/
- Know when you can withhold payment. If there’s a problem with merchandise or services rendered, and you’ve made a good faith effort to work it out with the contractor, contact your credit card company about withholding payment.
- Pay wisely. Before signing off and making final payment, check that all work meets contract requirements; you have written warranties for materials and workmanship; there is proof that all subcontractors and suppliers have been paid; the job site has been cleaned up and cleared of excess materials, tools, and equipment; and that you have inspected and approved the completed work. A reputable contractor will not threaten or pressure you to agree to final payment if the job is not finished properly.
- Keep Records. Keep all records in one place, including contract copies, change orders, correspondence, a record of all payments (you may need receipts for tax purposes), photographs of the work and a log of all phone calls, conversations, and activities.
- If necessary, cancel a contract in the proper manner. Be sure to follow the cancellation procedures set out in the contract and send the notification by registered mail with a return receipt to be signed by the contractor.
- Report a Problem. If any problem arises, try to resolve it with the contractor. Follow any phone conversations with a letter sent by certified mail with a return receipt and keep a copy for your files. If not, you can find information on available consumer protection resources at your state attorney general’s website at http://myfloridalegal.com/, your local home builders association website at http://fhba.com, or dispute resolution programs at http://www.flcourts.org/
resources-and-services/ alternative-dispute- resolution/.