5 Things Homeowners Need to Know When Dealing with Home Remodeling Contractors
By Eric Dobradin
If you are like most people, your home is your most valuable asset, next to your spouse, children and, perhaps, a pet. You agonized over the listings looking for it. You spent countless hours viewing properties before you found it. You also may have had a couple of contracts fall through before closing on it. Think about all the effort you put into buying the property. You should put just as much effort into maintaining and improving your home as well.
Frequently, homeowners feel so busy dealing with their day-to-day obligations that they let contractors and repairmen take control of the transaction. After all, they are the experts. Though contractors may have expertise, you do not have to be mechanically inclined to protect yourself from unscrupulous vendors. Here are five things every homeowner should keep in mind when dealing with contractors.
- Get it in writing. With some exceptions, you are entitled to a written contract for home repair and remodeling work over $1,000, according to state law 815 ILCS 513/1 et seq. Your contract should always include essential information such as 1) legal name and physical address of the company or person doing the work (not a P.O. Box); 2) a description of services with a breakdown of costs for materials, labor, fees, and other charges; 3) estimated start and completion dates; 4) payment terms and schedule of payments; 5) grounds for termination of the contract; and 6) notices required under the Illinois Home Repair and Remodeling Act.
- Review the contract. High-pressure tactics may make you want to sign the contract just to get the whole thing done. Do yourself a favor and step back for a day. Read the contract and the notices. There are certain notices you are entitled to receive relating to your rights as a consumer. Those notices are there for a reason, usually because enough customers were harmed that the legislature determined the notice requirement must be enacted into law to protect potential victims. For example, always expect to be handed a “Home Repair: Know Your Consumer Rights” pamphlet. For projects over $1,000, you can expect to sign an acknowledgment of receipt for the pamphlet as well. The brochure provides you with tips to avoiding home repair fraud, analyzing contractors and contracts, including essential terms in the contract, and listing contact information for help if you have been defrauded.
- Ask for a contractor’s sworn statement. Home remodeling projects come in all sizes, from a one-hour plumbing fix to multi-year renovations. Getting a written contract sets out the parties’ expectations. Once the work starts, you should also request written documentation of progress as it is completed. “The law requires that the contractor shall submit a sworn statement of persons furnishing labor, services, material, fixtures, apparatus or machinery, forms or form work before any payments are required to be made to the contractor” (770 ILCS 60/5). Send your contractor an e-mail or message stating that you need a contractor’s sworn statement before making the first payment. If you already paid a deposit, request a sworn statement before the next payment and at each payment thereafter.
Remember, you are not just paying for materials and labor; you also are paying for the documentation of the materials and labor, which you may need should problems arise in the future. Without a sworn statement, you may not know whether your contractor hired subcontractors to do any of the work. If the contractor fails to pay any of those subcontractors, you may find yourself getting notices of a subcontractor liens in the mail. Also, the scope of a project can change over time. Too often, contractors do not document all the changes in writing. A sworn statement can give you a good idea of the work that was completed and paid, completed and unpaid, and incomplete. Last but not least, a sworn statement protects you from having to pay twice for the same work. If a subcontractor is owed money on a contractor’s sworn statement or you receive notice from a subcontractor that they are furnishing work, you, as the owner, should be prepared to withhold those funds until a lien waiver is received from that subcontractor.
- Demand lien waivers as payments are made. Subcontractors are required to provide notice to the homeowner within 60 days of furnishing work and within 90 days after completing the work. Most projects are completed within 60 days. You should protect yourself against unwelcome surprises by requesting a sworn statement and lien waivers for everyone listed on the contractors sworn statement, including your contractor. You do not want to find out that a subcontractor is owed money after you’ve made a final payment. Do not rely on the contractor to provide you this documentation voluntarily. Though your contractor has a duty to provide you with a sworn statement, the homeowner also has a duty to request it.
- Be willing to walk away. If you are considering hiring a contractor and that contractor tries to prevent you from asserting any of the above rights, be willing to walk away. If the contractor’s paperwork is sloppy or the contractor is dismissive of your right to documentation on the project, expect the contractor’s work to be just as sloppy and for the contractor to be dismissive of your warranty claims in the future.
You have the right to choose your own contractor. Take care when selecting your contractor and be diligent about demanding documentation before, during, and after the work is complete.
If you have questions at any stage of your project, contact Gardi, Haught, Fischer & Bhosale, Ltd. for a consultation about your rights and how they can help you protect your most valuable asset. Request a free consultation by clicking on the button below.