Clients, Contractors and Contracts – a Responsibility Guide

Information for both Consumers and Contractors

Contractors have received a bad wrap in the last 25-35 years or so, and for good cause. Reason being that here has been a rash of half-assed, fly-by-night, hacker and fraudster contractors in the marketplace and it has undoubtedly left a bad taste in the mouth of consumers, and rightly so. But let’s not go painting them all with the same dirty brush.

Unfortunately the situation isn’t single-sided, there are plenty of good, honest contractors whose backs are up and whom have had to adapt and change the way they do business due to an insurgence of deceitful, crooked, sneaky and unscrupulous  consumers.

So here’s the thing, since the governing bodies and regulatory folks in the ivory towers have yet to implement any sort of equal playing field to hold those accountable (on both sides) to any form of acceptable justice, we as an industry need to educate ourselves and consumers on the correct way to do things in order to help keep the peace, and save face – at the very least.

Below is a short, educational guideline of responsibilities to those on both sides to save those less informed from yourselves (and others).

As always, please feel free to ask questions, add insight, report on incidents you have been a part of or give your side of a story. Every tidbit of extra information helps us all to ultimately understand each other and hopefully find better ways to do things. And please keep in mind that we will NOT tolerate any hateful, venemous speech in any form.

“None of us are as smart as all of us” -unknown


As a consumer,

ALWAYS get a MINIMUM of 3 estimates, that way you have a gauge as to price and duration, as well as a chance for discuss different viewpoints about your project that you may not have thought about.

More often than not, the estimate that is middle ground is the right one.

I can’t say this next part loud or often enough – It is your RESPONSIBILITY to properly vet any contractor or company that you are considering hiring for a project. That means CHECKING references. If they are worth their salt, a good, honest and reliable contractor/company will have no issue supplying you with a good list of references (which includes FULL NAMES and contact information). CALL THEM! Not just one either, call as many as there are on the list. The more the merrier as they say, chances are you’ll weed out any “fakes” if they exist. If possible, arrange to meet with a few (or all) of them to discuss any questions or concerns you may have and assess the work done. Although it may take some of your personal time, it is a very small price to pay for somewhat of an insurance policy. A happy customer will generally have no problem showing off the good work of their contractor, and they are often eager to have others see it. Remember, the idea is to NOT get caught in a scam or deal with a con.

The more research you do, the safer you are. If anything smells fishy, it probably is. Be a detective, look at the vehicle the contractor shows up in for your estimate and the clothes he/she is wearing, if well cared for, the chances are good that they will care for your project in the same manor. If they arrived to the appointment late, smelling like the ditch behind a truck stop, wearing torn, dirty clothes or parked an old, rusty, leaky vehicle on your newly paved driveway, these may very well be red flags. Check them out with the Better Business Bureau, or your local township/city offices to see if they are an actual registered company. A good rating (or no rating) from the BBB is usually a good sign, because whether or not a company has paid the outrageously overpriced fee for what the BBB does and becoming a member, the BBB will take notes/complaints about companies/contractors that are not affiliated with them.

If you are too proud, busy, lazy, or shy to research the contractor, then you lose the right to complain in the future if you get screwed.

Above-board contractors will not make excuses and will go out of their way to prove themselves if they want the work. Never be afraid to ask, it’s your project and your money. Make sure to get a DETAILED, SIGNED contract that has all their contact information on it and perhaps tax/business #’s as well. The more detail on a contract, the easier it is to see when something has been omitted, changed or added, and to file charges if need be. A step-by-step breakdown of any job can quantify the $$ you may be spending. For larger projects be sure to arrange (in advance) a payment schedule. As a general rule in construction, the materials and labour is a 50/50 split – but NOT always. Sometimes there is a lot of labour for a small amount of material and vice-versa. Also, it’s not uncommon for a contractor to request a holding fee to schedule a big project or 30-50% up front to cover the cost of materials (certainly with smaller companies) and sometimes a bit of labour (just in case). For larger jobs, a percentage of payment at the halfway point, on a weekly/bi-weekly or even on quarterly basis based of percentage of job completed is not uncommon either. Withholding 10% of the total until you are completely satisfied is also acceptable.

One must remember that smaller outfits who give free estimates must somehow cover the cost of travel time and fuel for jobs not undertaken and often don’t have lines of credit with a bank or credit with suppliers, particularly when starting out, so an up-front payment is often necessary. That said, they often have lower pricing and are more eager to do well and build a good reputation.

If we didn’t take on projects due to horror stories told by others, nothing would ever get done. Sure, there are fly-by-night outfits, but if you’ve done your research, your odds are much better that you won’t get taken.

FYI – If you find that the estimate is totally off (too high), it could be that the company/contractor is already very busy/doesn’t like you/your project and is highballing in order to purposely lose the contract. They could just be keeping face by showing up in the first place.

OR, they feel you are “stuck between a rock and a hard place” and will pay whatever just to get the job done, or figure you’re just a sucker – it happens, often. They could just be misguided and have high hourly charges in order to pay for their recent trade education, new business vehicle (and business vehicle insurance), tools, uniforms, liability insurance, Workman’s Compensation Insurance, contracting license(s), health insurance, and a plethora of other things that any GOOD, RESPONSIBLE contractor SHOULD have to protect himself, his family and his clients.

If you are apprehensive or not knowledgeable about a project and/or how to go about it, hire a consultant. At the very least it can save you a great deal of financial distress – not to mention aggravation, sleepless nights, health issues and ruined relationships.

As a contractor,

it’s your responsibility to do your research on the client as well. Be a detective; examine the property, the building(s), any vehicles and the state they are in. Do they look well kept? If so, they most likely have the money for upkeep. Does the perspective client seem overly picky or have they complained about other contractors who have failed them? Do you honestly believe you’ll ever be able to satisfy them? When asked for a holding fee for scheduling or deposit for materials on a larger job, do they balk at the idea? Ask if others have worked for them and who they are (in case of a new home check with the builder). Perhaps ask why those companies are not returning (if in a similar industry/trade), this gives you information you can look into that could save your assets. Check online to see if they are under investigation, have liens on property, or are in being sued by others. Do they seem absolutely clueless or perhaps overly educated and savvy of the project? Either one could be a sign they’re playing you. Most clients have done some research and know at least a little about what they want done and the process (but not always). If they know too much, why are they not undertaking it themselves? Keep an open mind and eyes wide open too. Be sure to make a detailed contract with any notes, clauses etc, even for “common sense” stuff, because we all know there is very little of that around nowadays. The more clear and detailed your contract, the less a client can claim they didn’t understand – and be sure they sign the estimate/contract to show that they have read and understand the terms. All to often I have heard stories of contractors who decided that they would get to paperwork and signatures later, only to lose in court of law when a crooked client takes advantage.

I too was stung – maybe more than once. Fool me once – shame on you, fool me twice – shame on me.

As to the subject of liens, they are only good if; there is something of value to liquidate, the person/people are not in prison (or if you can find them) or if there is enough to go around (after others involved have been compensated). “You can’t take blood from a stone”.

In closing…

“Good work is rarely cheap, and cheap work is rarely good” – not mine, but I love it.

Nowadays, most well equipped and experienced trades in medium to large cities are charging $50 to 75/hr., and some upwards of $100. If one is asking less, it’s probably because they don’t have much experience, aren’t insured, don’t possess the right tools for the job or a combination of the above.

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