Hiring a contractor for home repairs or renovation projects can be stressful.  You do your research, check references, review estimates, and ask questions to make sure you are hiring the right firm for the job, but things still can go wrong. Even with the best contractors, there can be errors, mistakes and miscommunication. Here are some suggestions to help minimize your risks and protect you if things go wrong. 

Contract: Make sure you have a written contract that contains all of the project details. The contract does not need to be complicated, but it should be clear and complete. At minimum, it should include the scope of work, start and finish dates, price, payment dates, and the extent and length of warranties. The process of putting things in writing can go a long way in ensuring that you and your contractor have the same expectations and avoid miscommunication down the line. A clearly written contract is in the best interests of both you and your contractor. Any changes should also be in writing. Don’t sign a contract you don’t understand. It is a lot easier and less expensive to have a lawyer help you fix a contract before you sign it than to hire a lawyer to argue about it later.

Documentation: Take notes of your conversations with bidders and references. Any time you have a conversation with the contractor about the details of your project, it’s a good idea to do it in writing. If that’s not possible, be sure to follow up in writing. A written record of your conversations helps avoid ambiguity and provides an easy way for either party to confirm previously discussed details. Keep a complete paper trail of everything you do along the way. You never know what will end up being relevant. It is hard, if not impossible, to recreate those records later. 

Insurance: Mistakes happen. Even if your contractor takes responsibility, they may not have the financial resources to make things right. Part of vetting your contractor should include determining whether they and their subcontractors have adequate insurance coverage. Ask for copies of insurance certificates and keep them with the rest of your documentation. Insurance will cover some contractor mistakes and negligence, but it will not cover poor workmanship. There’s no substitute for hiring a competent and reputable contractor. 

Hopefully everything goes smoothly and your thorough documentation is little more than a memento of a successful home improvement project. In the event of a dispute, however, consult with an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney experienced in these matters can help navigate the complex relationships between contractors, subcontractors, and insurance companies and negotiate a resolution, hopefully before litigation is the only option.