Spring is finally here, and for many homeowners, spring signals the beginning of the building and remodeling season.
Home building and remodeling projects can be stressful. You have a myriad of decisions to make, invoices to pay, and if you’re remodeling, a constant stream of workers, noise and mess to live with.
One of the greatest sources of stress, however, comes when contractors fail to meet your expectations, whether it be in the materials used, the timing of the project or the final bill they send. The key to avoiding that stress is communication, and the key to clear communication is to get it in writing.
It begins with a written contract. The contract should be specific, including the materials to be used, costs, payment terms, warranties and, in some cases, a drawing or diagram of the project. Be sure you understand all aspects of the contract. If it is missing an important detail, add it before signing the contract.
With most building and remodeling projects, changes will occur during the process. The contractor may run into termite-infested wood in your home, or you may decide you want to use a different type of floor covering. As those changes occur, track them with change orders.
Change orders are amendments to the contract allowing you to adjust costs and other project specifications along the way. They are a critical tool for tracking expenses and assuring you and the contractor understand the changes to be made.
If despite your written communications, you experience problems with your contractor, the best way to get your project back on track is to sit down and talk about what’s happening. Be sure the contractor understands your concerns, and make sure you understand why things are happening the way they are. Following that meeting send a follow-up letter spelling out decisions that were made.
If problems persist, you may want to contact an attorney who deals with these kinds of issues. Many times, a qualified attorney can help resolve the communication issues before lawsuits become a consideration.
Finally, when your project is finished and you’ve paid your bills, be sure to get a written lien release from any and all contractors who worked on your project. Even if you have a general contractor, you will still need lien releases from any plumbers, electricians, painters or others associated with the job.
A lien release provides you a formal release showing that the contractor has been paid in full for his or her work on your home. Without such a release, a contractor can place a lien on your property for any amounts still due. In a worst case scenario, the contractor could file a lawsuit to get payment, which could eventually result in a foreclosure.
As you approach relationships with contractors, it’s important to remember that most are highly motivated to finish your project to your satisfaction. They want to move on to the next project, and the longer yours takes, the longer it takes them to bring in additional revenue.
Clear, written communication will help both you and the contractor avoid legal headaches and, more importantly, get what you want out of the project.
By La Crosse Lawyer Brian Weber of Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC.