Deciding When to Use a Contractor
Making the decision to use a contractor is one that is often personal. It will come down to evaluating:
- Your comfort level with the task at hand
- Your time
- Your budget
If you’re venturing beyond a simple home repair project to new technically challenging installations such as adding electrical circuits or adding a sink, you should first check to see if a permit is required from your local building department.
You don’t need a permit for many home repairs but you may need a permit for “new work” especially for electrical, heating, cooling and plumbing. In some cases, the permit will require that a licensed contractor does the work to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare. In some cases, it may be required that the local building inspector review your work during construction and after its completion.
If you find that a licensed contractor is not required for the permit or that the work you want to do can be covered under a “Home Owner’s Permit” then you should ask yourself three questions:
- Do I feel confident in making (or at least comfortable trying) this repair?
- Are the consequences acceptable if it takes me longer to do the project than I anticipate?
- Do I really want to try this project?
If you answer “no” to any of the above questions, you should probably hire a contractor for the repair. If you answered “yes” to them all, you should give it a shot and do the repair yourself. That’s the only way to gain experience and confidence.
How to Manage the Project
Once you decide to hire a contractor you should know how to effectively manage him, whether it’s a quick home repair project or a large home renovation project or new construction. Either way, there are some guidelines to follow in managing the work of anyone you hire to work on your home:
- Hire a licensed, insured contractor.
- Define the expectations of both parties (you and them) and manage to those expectations.
- At a minimum, have a signed document (a contract, or signed and accepted proposal) that outlines what they will do for you (called the Scope of Work), define how much it will cost and where time is an issue define how long it will take and when they will start and finish.
- Define the payment terms before work is started and make the terms part of your signed document.
- Define your expectations and requirements for clean up of their work and protection of surrounding areas as part of the signed document (for example a roofer must protect your landscaping during a roof tear-off and clean up any debris.)
- Discuss the rights of the contractor to access the home when you’re not there if required, and the use of your water, electricity. (Note: Try not to have the contractor in your home when you’re not there; this protects you and them.)
- Before the contractor starts work, have a friendly conversation about what you want them to be careful with if you have any concerns about things.
- When the work is going on, generally leave the contractor alone. Be friendly but don’t get in the way. Casually observe what they are doing. If you are concerned about something you see, ask the contractor about it, but try to let them get their work done. Contractors make their living by getting in and out of a job efficiently.
- Discuss the “extra:” The most difficult issue you may experience is the possible request by the contractor for a “Change Order” or “Extra.” This results in added cost to you, which is why you need a clearly defined scope of work. A request for a Change Order is reasonable only if the contractor runs into a situation on the project that was not reasonably anticipated by him, or is a change in scope by you. If you do get a request for a Change Order, review it with the contractor in fairness. If it is a change in scope or resulted in taking more time due to something you did, you should review and pay it if you think it’s fair. If it’s something that was always part of the scope, you have a more delicate situation and may need to stand firm based on the terms defined in your signed document. Bottom line? If you need to negotiate a price on a Change Order you both did not anticipate, try splitting the difference with him. Rapport and fairness go a long way in resolving these issues.
- When the repair or maintenance work is complete, make sure you review the work, in person, before you make final payment to the contractor. Make sure the job site is cleaned as expected and the work looks good. Do not be rushed into final payment for any reason.
- If you’re happy with their work, tell them.