Updated: Jun 13, 2022
We’ve handled enough contractor disputes to know that if you want to enhance your chances of a successful project, you must actively manage the process. Lack of communication and inattention to detail are common problems with home improvement projects that have gone bad.
Here are seven smart ways to stay on top of the job and maintain strong communications with your contractor and construction team.
Read the Contract
The law requires your contractor to provide you with a written contract. If your contractor is giving you only a verbal quote or a simple estimate, that’s not enough. The contract must include at least the following:
the approximate starting date and completion date for the work;
a description of the work to be performed, the materials to be used and a set of specifications that cannot be changed without a written change order signed by the home owner;
the total sales price due under the contract;
the toll-free number of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Consumer Protection;
the three-business-day notice of the right of rescission pursuant to the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law; and
cannot require a deposit of more than one-third (1/3) or less of the contract price in home improvement contracts in excess of $1,000, plus any special order materials.
Its very important that you read and understand the contract. Think about the various steps and parts of your home improvement project and how the contract provisions apply to those parts.
Read more: Know Your Rights
Setting proper expectations is one of the best ways to avoid ill-will between you and your contractor. Good things to discuss up front include:
Get an estimated project schedule up front. What work will be done when. This helps you determine how well thought-out the project is by your contractor. If he cannot give you a good estimate of the schedule up front, it may signal that you’ll have unwelcome delays.
When he plans to start and conclude his work each day.
Who is in his crew and that you should expect to be in your home.
The location where materials and equipment can be stored when not in use.
Level of clean up and cleanliness that you expect.
Use of your bathrooms.
Establish Good Communication
Ask the contractor how he prefers to communicate with you. Good options include:
Being onsite and talking with your contractor every morning before work begins.
Having your contractor’s cell phone number and the OK to call or text anytime.
Set expectations on your respective response time to one another’s texts and calls.
Talking with the job foreman every day at a pre-determined time.
Try to meet or communicate with the contractor at least once a day. This is an opportunity for you to hear progress reports and find out what work is scheduled over the coming days — and to ask your questions and voice any concerns you have.
Keep a Project Diary
Your project diary is your friend and ally. Use it to:
Note things you want to ask your contractor.
Take lots of pictures of the work progress.
Jot down ideas.
Note who was on the project on a daily basis.
Note arrival and departure times by workers.
Note upcoming delivery dates.
A diary helps keep communication clear, and provides a record of who said what when — which could help you resolve disputes later on.
Track All Changes in Writing
Your contractor may encounter unforeseen issues, or you may decide to include additional work as the project evolves. Any good contractor can handle these changes — just make sure that he quotes them in writing first.
Specify in your contract that you want changes (often called a “change order”) in writing for anything that’s going to add to the bottom line of the job. That means the contractor must give you a description of the change and a fixed price for what it’ll cost. You both must sign the change order before the work is done.
Check the Work
Be proactive about checking your contractor’s work. A good time to check is when the crew has left for the day. Make notes in your project diary and bring up anything you’re wondering about during your daily check-in with your contractor or job foreman. You can:
Compare the model numbers on appliances and fixtures against your receipts, invoices, and the contractor’s bid to ensure that the right product was delivered.
Check the work against the drawings or blueprints.
Note any quality issues, such as misaligned trim, misaligned seams in grout, etc. You’re the customer; you have the right to expect good work.
Pay Only for Completed Work
Your remodeling contract should establish a series of payments to be made when certain aspects of the job are completed. For example, your contract could stipulate that you’ll pay in three equal installments, with the last payment to be made after the project is complete, and after you and your contractor agree the work is satisfactory.
Never put down more than more than one-third (1/3) or less of the contract price in home improvement contracts in excess of $1,000, plus any special-order materials. Its unlawful for your contractor to ask for more than that.
Before you sign off and make the final payment, check that:
all work meets the standards spelled out in the contract
you have written warranties for materials and workmanship
you have proof that all subcontractors and suppliers have been paid
the job site has been cleaned up and cleared of excess materials, tools, and equipment
you have inspected and approved the completed work
When Disputes Arise, We Can Help
Our construction and civil litigation attorneys have represented homeowners and contractors in contract dispute matters for over 30 years. Our highly qualified contract dispute lawyers have the expertise you need to resolve a financially destructive contract dispute, no matter how challenging achieving a satisfying resolution may seem. Over our many years litigating Pennsylvania contract disputes, we have helped hundreds of clients to reach positive results.