Spring has Sprung: Rules for choosing the right building contractor!

By | April 24, 2013


Some common mistakes made when choosing contractors, home improvement specialists and home builders!

In conjunction with an improving economy, the uptick in the housing market and the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy in parts of the region, more and more people are dealing with contractors whether in new construction, home improvement or in some other type of remodeling.

Choosing the right one is of course critically important for so many reasons, not the least of which is the maintaining of ones sanity.

Therefore, knowing some of the potential mistakes commonly made by consumers before the process even begins is imperative in order to avoid the pitfalls.

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a presentation given by the owner of Long Island, New York builder, Atlantic Shores, who has been in the business for over 30 years through good times and bad and who has seen and heard it all.

He spoke about those things a consumer needs to ask, needs to think about and needs to consider before signing on the dotted line.

This is the Top 10 list he presented of what the common mistakes made are and how to avoid them!

Choosing The Lowest Bidder

According to Consumer Reports – The biggest mistake consumers make is “being seduced by the price alone.” Would you hire the cheapest surgeon in town to operate on you or a member of your family?  There is a saying, “Some of the most expensive work you will ever pay for is cheap work.” Consider that your home is your biggest investment, and you should always think long-term when it comes to doing remodeling and also consider the effects saving a few dollars now will have over 3, 5 or 10 years of living there. “Some contractors use low quotes to win the job, then jack up the price later”, says New York Assistant Attorney General Nick Garin. Your most important tool in evaluating the cost of a project is the value of what you are getting for your money. Low prices are usually a trade off for cutting corners in materials, workmanship or warranty. Remember that most average paint jobs, tile installations or other aspects of the project can look good when completed, the true test is how will they hold up over the next 18 months, 5 years, 10 years?  Did the painter use a proper primer or just paint over things ensuring in a year the paint will begin to peel? Did the tile setter install the proper under-layments or just tile over the problem, ensuring the grout will begin cracking next year? These differences are usually the difference between a lower and a higher estimate.

Not Getting It In Writing

Insist on a written contract. The contract should be dated and include your name and address, as well as the contractor’s name, address, phone number. It should also contain a detailed description of the project, (the scope of work) including plans, materials, sometimes model numbers, quantities, colors, and the approximate starting and completion dates. It also should outline how changes in work orders will be handled and the notice required for cancellation.Finally, specify a payment schedule. The contract should allow you to schedule your payments at different stages tied to completions of specific aspects of the project. Have a final payment due upon completion and your satisfaction.

Too Large Of A Down Payment

Avoid contractors that require large down payments. A small deposit to schedule the work is fine, 10% is standard. If a company needs a large down payment this can be a warning sign that all is not right. Stable companies don’t need their customers down payments to pay for materials or worse to pay for company overhead. Other warning signs, being asked to write a check to the contractor personally instead of to the company, or being asked to pay cash.
No Guarantee

This is one of the most forgotten questions for customers. You wouldn’t buy a new car without a warranty would you? Ask about the warranty and ask if it is in writing. Never accept a verbal warranty of “If something breaks, don’t worry, I’ll fix it.” a verbal warranty will be worth the paper it is written on. Always insist on a warranty in writing. The warranty should clearly spell out what is covered and what is not and how long the warranty is good for. A one year warranty is the minimum you should expect, two years is better.
Not Checking References

A good contractor will be happy to provide you with dozens of written references. When speaking to the contractor’s customers, ask such questions as:

  • Did the contractor keep to the schedule and the contract terms? 
  • Were you pleased with the work and the way it was done?
  • Did the contractor listen to you if you had a problem, and seem concerned about resolving it?
  • Did the contractor willingly make any necessary corrections? 
  • Would you hire him again? 
  • Would you recommend him to others?

You may also wish to check the contractor out with your local building department, trade association or union, local consumer protection agency, consumer fraud unit in your city or district attorney’s office, and the Better Business Bureau. Call these organizations to see if they have information about the contractor you are considering. 

Ask the contractor for the address of his or her business location and business telephone number, and verify them. A contractor who operates a business out of the back of a pickup truck with a cellular telephone may be difficult to find to complete a job or fix something that has gone wrong after the last bill is paid.

Not Knowing What You Want

Sounds silly doesn’t it, but not really. If you don’t know what you want, you might not like what you get. Also, if you change your mind and change the job halfway through, the contract – the price will change also (Hint: it won’t get cheaper). Know as clearly what you want done as possible. You don’t have to know the details of each and every facet of what you want done but you do need to have a good idea of the broad things you want. Changes midway will keep increasing the price, especially if completed sections of the project have to be redone.
Not checking a contractor’s insurance coverage.

If a contractor says he has insurance coverage for himself and any workers, he should be happy to show you documentation from the insurance company. Don’t expose your home owner’s policy to claims for contractor negligence. With home owner’s insurance rates climbing all over the country the last thing you need to do is have to make a claim for no reason when a simple verification of your contractors insurance could protect you from it.Ask about their General Liability Insurance. A one-million dollar policy is now considered standard. Make sure he requires the same coverage from any sub-contractors that will be working on your home. Sub-contractors without insurance won’t be covered under the general contractors insurance and will default back to you.Ask about Workers Compensation insurance. Without it if the contractor or any of his employees get hurt on the job site they can go after you personally to pay for medical bills. Imagine the nightmare of a debilitating injury, you could lose your house for innocently asking someone to work on it.
Not Insisting on Lien Waivers.

Anyone who works on your house should provide you with a lien waiver that waives their claim to future payments for the project. Typically a general contractor will provide waivers for all the workers and for the businesses that supplied labor  for the job. You don’t want to pay the final remodeling bill, yet leave yourself liable for payments to a subcontractor or a lumber yard.
Not Asking Questions About Their Professional Affiliations

Well established companies are affiliated with professional organizations such as the Better Business Bureau and industry related organizations such as the NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association), NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry), or NAHB (National Association of Home Builders), In all cases, these organizations only attract conscientious contractors interested in bettering the industry and in weeding out unprofessional contractors. In order to become a member, the contractor’s background and references are thoroughly investigated. While a new contractor may not be a member of any professional organizations, it is highly unlikely an established contractor would not be a member of at least one, unless there is a reason that he cannot join.
Not Ask Questions About How They Work

I can’t stress how important this information can be to you,  ask questions such as how do they perform their work, what time do they start, how will you protect my carpets, how will the trash and debris be handled, do you work straight through a project? The answers to these questions will give you a clear picture of what type of contractor you are dealing with. 


Not Asking Questions About Their Experience With Similar Work As Yours?

The time for a contractor to experiment or get on the job training is not on your project! The more experience a contractor has with the work involved in your project the smoother, less delays and possibly cheaper you can expect your project to be executed. Ask the contractor how many times he has completed projects such as yours. What issues does he believe he may run into during your project? What procedures does he have in place to eliminate problems that might surface during the completion of your project?

Information source


At Hallmark Abstract Service our pledge to clients is to make each and every interaction and transaction with our firm as seamless, painless and productive as it can be.

We accomplish this through the level of service we provide, the attention directed to every detail of a transaction, our quick turnaround times and finally through our extremely conservative pricing on non-policy related fees. These are just some of the things that our clients have come to expect from us!

And that’s why we continue to earn their business, time and time again!

Call or email us today to set-up an appointment and we will come to your office, learn about the nuances of your practice and explain to you the way that we approach ours!

Mike Haltman, President

516.741.4723 (O)

Hallmark Abstract Service LLC


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