The best way to protect yourself from a bad contractor is to not hire one. We’ve already outlined a few questions you need to ask before hiring a builder, to ensure you are getting someone knowledgeable, experienced and trustworthy. Still, someone can check all the boxes and still fail to hold up their end of the bargain — or worse.
To stay safe when dealing with contractors, you need to arm yourself with a few crucial financial defenses. What’s more, you need to be prepared to confront your contractor and take legal action, if necessary. Here’s a quick and dirty guide to dealing with contractors and avoiding unnecessary risks.
Acquire Your Own Extra Insurance
In most states, general contractors are required to carry a few types of insurance policies, but the one you should care about is contractor’s liability insurance. This protects you from most damage done by the contractor, including that done by shoddy work or poor-quality materials. This insurance also shoulders the responsibility of paying you in case the contractor fails to meet expected standards or if one of their workers gets injured on the job.
While this might seem like it will cover you in any catastrophe, the truth is that it probably won’t. Your contractor might lie about having a policy, or their policy might not pay a sufficient amount to cover the damages to your property. Just in case, you should acquire additional insurance of your own: builder’s risk insurance. Typical home insurance often doesn’t cover your home during a renovation, especially if you have to move out while construction occurs. Plus, neither your homeowner’s insurance nor your contractor’s liability insurance covers the equipment used to remodel your home; thus, if someone steals valuable machinery, you will be out-of-pocket for the costs — unless you have builder’s risk insurance. You should talk to your insurance broker about adding this policy onto your existing homeowner’s insurance package.
Verify the Warranties on Your Valuables
If your remodel is extensive, you might move all your belongings into a storage unit for the duration — but some renovations allow you to keep your possessions where they are. However, just because a contractor tells you to leave your belongings alone doesn’t mean that no harm will befall them. Construction is a dangerous endeavor, and even if a contractor or worker doesn’t pilfer some of your stuff, some more delicate items could get damaged in the process. While your insurance might cover some of your belongings, it’s still a good idea to check what other protections you have in place — and perhaps seek even more.
Take tech, for example. Advanced devices, especially those connected to your smart home, can be expensive and difficult to replace. Often, it’s better to use a warranty to have your devices repaired, but if the seller’s or manufacturer’s warranty has run out, you might consider acquiring a home electronics warranty, at least for the length of time of the remodel. Then, at least, you won’t have to worry about your devices failing you.
Watch for Suspicious Behavior
A lot of protecting yourself from bad contractors is defense — but sometimes, you need to play offense. You should actively be on the lookout for weird or distressing behavior, which should signal that you can’t trust this contractor to do the work you want. Some examples of suspicious conduct include:
- Pressure. Contractors who want you to decide on a bid without weighing other options, contractors who try to force you to choose certain elements over others, are not good contractors.
- Availability. Contractors who can come look at your job today and start work tomorrow might not be the right choice. Good contractors are booked weeks in advance, so you should expect to wait.
- Vagueness. Contractors should always be able and willing to answer your questions directly, but if it seems like your contractor is skirting your questions, you should have no reason to trust them.
- Payment. Contractors who demand payment in full up-front or who only take cash are shady characters who are likely to give you short shrift.
Get Friendly With a Construction Attorney
Another offensive tactic to keep you and your property safe is to have an established relationship with a construction attorney. While some general litigation attorneys can successfully argue your case, a dedicated construction lawyer knows the ins and outs of the business and has memorized all relevant state statutes concerning construction in all forms. While attorneys aren’t cheap, it’s useful to have one who knows you and your situation available in case a contractor goes bad fast.
Be Prepared to Fire the Contractor
This is perhaps the most important piece of advice in this post. If you are unwilling to fire even the worst contractor imaginable, you might as well not hire a contractor at all. Some people will endure immense hardship and pay exorbitantly to avoid conflict, but you shouldn’t want a criminal contractor to profit from your politeness. At the fist sign that things are going wrong on your remodel, you need to consult your contractor agreement and fire your contractor, if possible.