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What to do before hiring a contractor for your home renovation

by | May 15, 2024 | Construction Accidents

I have far too many clients coming to me after a contractor screwed them over, wondering what they can do to fix it, not having the money to fix not only the construction, but also pay the lawyer to get their money back.  I don’t care if it is deck, a bathroom renovation, or basement buildout, here are the things you MUST to do to protect yourself when hiring a contractor:

  1. NEVER pay full price, or even more than 50%, up front.

If a contractor asks you to pay fill price for the entire job up front, run.  Too many times I have seem contractors take off with the money never to return, or show up for a day, do a half-assed job, then jump around to other projects for weeks or months, leaving the project incomplete.  A great way to divide payments and ensure both parties are happy with the work is to divide it into thirds: 1/3 up front, 1/3 half way, remaining 1/3 after completion.

  1. Make sure they have insurance, and ask them for a Certificate of Liability Insurance that names you as an additional insured before work begins.

A contractor that does not have insurance and causes a problem in your home is bad; a contractor that does not have insurance gets injured in your home, or invites another subcontractor in who gets injured in your home, is a living nightmare.  Never permit any contractor to perform any work on your property without ensuring they have insurance, and that their insurance will cover you in the event of an incident or injury while they are performing work on your property.

  1. Make sure they are registered as a PA Home Improvement Contractor.

Pennsylvania has a Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act which requires any contractor making at least $5,000 a year from home improvements to register with the Attorney General’s Office.  Performing any home improvement work without being registered leads to fines and allows the homeowner to recover 100% of anything paid for the work.  It also has very specific parameters for information that is required to be contained within the written contract for work, and failure to abide by the terms of the Act can also lead to fines and recovery of money paid (i.e. a minimum of insurance coverage for you for the work, and completion date specified within the contract).

To check if your contractor is registered under the Act, visit; Home Improvement Contractor Search (attorneygeneral.gov)

  1. Ask if they will be using subcontractors, and then find out exactly who those subcontractors are.

It’s great you hired the contractor with fancy business cards, folders, pictures, websites, and truck lettering that’s been around forever and everyone else was happy with.  But is the person who sold you the construction work the person that is actually performing the work?  For larger companies, chances are the answer is no.  Their business model includes making money for projects from you while paying the workers less money to do the actual work.  This permits them to make more money with simultaneous projects.  Some of the people that show up might have their own companies and not even work for the company you hired, or worse, not even have a company, license, or experience.  If your company is bringing in a subcontractor, follow all of the above steps to ensure that subcontractor knows what they are doing as well.

  1. Make sure they are responsible for pulling permits and actually doing it.

Too many times I have seen townships walk into someone’s home, ask for a permit for the work obviously being performed, and when it cannot be produced, the entire project gets shut down, violations issued, and permit costs doubled.  In worse case scenarios, the contractor tries to blame the homeowner for not obtaining the permit for work that, in most cases, the homeowner did not even know they needed a permit for, much less how to obtain a permit.  And stay away from the winks on avoiding the “extra costs” for permits – resale of your home will be miserable if you did not get the permits you needed originally, and having a township inspector check your contractor’s work should be a welcome second glance by a professional to ensure the work you paid for was done safely.  GET THE PERMITS.

  1. Read that Contract.

Read it.  Read whatever protections they give themselves if something goes wrong.  Do not agree to anything with terms saying you agree to “indemnify and defend” the contractor for anything, and do not agree to anything that specifies jurisdiction for your lawsuit is in another state or location then where your work is being performed.  Filing a lawsuit to get your money back in CA when you live in PA is cost prohibitive to you, and they know that.

Do your homework with contractors.  Do not rely solely upon the social media adds or reviews.  It is far easier to get a flashy website and purchase positive online reviews these days than it is to actually do the work correctly.  And if you have a problem with the contractor’s work, call ViKing Law.