Hiring and Handling a Remodeling Contractor

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Perhaps the most important decision you are going to make in regards to your kitchen remodel is not be which cabinets or which flooring or which color of paint. It may not be a “what” but a “who”. Your choice of contractor, the guy or team that is going to prepare your kitchen and then remodel it with those beautiful new IKEA cabinets, can make a very big difference. Although IKEA seems to suggest that any Swedish teenager can whip together a new IKEA kitchen, getting a nice result requires expertise. Getting a great result, requires thorough planning, knowledge (foresight is better and cheaper than hindsight) and a careful search of the contractors in your area to find the right one for your project.

Here are some basic tips:

1) NEVER hire an unlicensed “handyman”. Do it yourself or hire someone who has a license.

In California and other states, a “handyman” may do remodeling or repair work that costs, in total, up to $500. Over that and he is violating the law. If the guy is doing this, he’s probably not paying taxes also. Do you pay taxes? Do you trust someone who considers the only way to make a living is to operate illegally?

The licensing requirements in any state are for YOU. They project you against the unqualified and the irresponsible. As a note, a licensed contractor MUST provide you with a written contract that lists all the specifications of the project and the price. They must provide a warranty on their work. If you hire someone without a license and something goes wrong, you have little if any recourse.

2) Get permits.

We certainly understand wanting to avoid this added expense. But NOT having a permit can be MUCH more expensive. It is EASY to get a permit for most kitchen projects. Swapping out cabinets usually does require a permit, as does plumbing or electrical work. But in many cases you can get your permit online (LA County, Santa Monica), or with a quick trip the your city offices (Pasadena). You pay a couple hundred bucks. You may need to get an inspection. Don’t worry about it. If you’ve got a licensed contractor, he’ll cooperate with the inspections and, remember, this is your city making sure your contractor did the work correctly and safely. It’s a bargain.

Some remodeling companies will get permits for you. Owners can get permits themselves for most kitchen projects so just do your homework, call your city office. Our company pulls permits but we also encourage homeowners to look into getting their own if they have the time to do so. It's a kind of self-empowerment. Whether or not your contractor pulls permits for you, it is, by law, the responsibility of the property owner to have necessary permits.

If you go to sell a property that has been remodeled without permits you may either not be allowed to include the upgrades in your assessed value or, worse, you will be required to pay penalties AND permit fees or, worse still, you‘ll have to tear out all the upgrades in order to sell the property. So get required permits. It’s easier than you think.

3) Get a contract, read it carefully, and honor it.

A contract is a written agreement, a handshake firmed with ink. It is your contractor telling you the rules by which he works, what he expects of you, what you can expect from him. To a great degree, the language of the contract is determined by the legal requirements for contractors in your state. But your contractor can add any statements he feels will clarify the terms of the job.

A contract is legally binding. This means that if you signed a contract for a company to install 20 cabinets and 45 sq feet of countertop for $5000, you have to carry through and allow them to do the job and then pay them for it. You can’t change your mind halfway through. Or two days before the job starts. Well, you can change your mind, but you remain liable for the $5000.

Here is an example of how NOT to operate:

You sign a contract with ABC Remodeling to install 20 cabinets and 45 square feet of countertop. The contract states the job will start on June 15. ABC crew shows up on the 15th.

1) You forgot to call ABC to say your flooring company is running late and the kitchen isn't ready on the 15th for cabinets. ABC has scheduled your job. They have every right to bill you for lost time. The contract says this but you just thought they’d be nice about it. But the delay costs ABC money, including but not limited to wages for their crew!

2) ABC installs 10 of your cabinets. Your brother-in-law comes to town and tells you he could do the rest for you for free. You call ABC that night and tell them you don’t like their work and are firing them.

You can’t fire someone with whom you have a contract. They are not employees. Even if they botched the job, you are required by law to allow them to fix the problems and only if they won’t do you have a legal foot to stand on. If you just fire them, you are legally obligated to pay the entire contract balance. That’s right. Even if they botched the job. You MUST let them fix it. You can’t be upset and angry and refuse. You stand to lose $5000 so keep it friendly and communicate in a business-like fashion always.

3) If things get nasty anyway, settle. Expect to pay for work that was done. Even if you have to hire someone else to finish the job, you have to offer to pay a fair amount for what was already done. Propose a solution. And before you pay whatever you are going to pay, request a Release. This will legally dissolve your legal obligations, and ABC’s. A proper release is often conditional on a payment being made. Once the check clears, the release becomes unconditional. This is the only way to get out of a contract without a lot of stress. In California, a contractor who does work for you and isn’t paid has the right to file a lien against your property (and it is easy for him to do this) and sue you for the entire contract balance.

This is not meant to scare you. Just require a contract, read it carefully, and if you sign it, be prepared to honor the agreement that it is. And require your contractor to do the same. If his work is bad, make him fix it. If he won’t, then and only then should you consider breaching the contract. But always keep communicating and do it in a business-like fashion. Chance are good your contractor wants to correct anything you are not happy with. Treat him with respect and assume he has good intentions.

The last point I want to make may be the first one to consider. Let’s say you request a bid from a remodeling contractor for your IKEA cabinet installation. He takes the time to prepare a helpful, detailed cost list for you. Don’t call him up and tell him his prices are too high. Don’t try to argue him down. Of course you can tell him you are only willing to pay $100, and not the $130 he is asking (for some service). But don’t tell him his price is high because you would not like someone to tell you that your salary or your prices are too high. They are what they are. This contractor may be a lot better in many ways than the guy who charges $100. It may be impossible to get the $100 guy on the phone. Impossible to get him to adjust the handles which go crooked every week. You get the idea. Operate on the Golden Rule. Life is short.

Thanks for listening. If you'd like to discuss your project with me, I can offer you a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Here's my calendar, just pick a time that works for you.

Our company, Modern Family Kitchens, offers an IKEA kitchen design service. We can provide this service locally, or remotely. We think you'll spend the least and get the best results when you invest in expert design. Call or write us to discuss your project. 877-550-1753. info@modernfamilykitchens.com