Your Rights as a Contractee

Right At Home Daily: Making It Right: Contractors
by Barbara B. Buchholz for Right At Home Daily

You're mentally prepared to renovate your home, and know what you want and the price you'd like to pay. But what are your rights as the contractee (also known as the homeowner)?

In any contractor-homeowner relationship, you need not play the role of an innocent victim or a mean taskmaster. But you need to be there in person, as much as in spirit, to check on the daily progress, make decisions in a timely manner, and resolve issues.

It is important to set boundaries to avoid unnecessary battles. Discuss with your contractor when you expect the crew to arrive and leave each day, how clean the job site should be, and whether or not the crew should use your cleaning supplies.

Establish house rules about bathroom and telephone use (before you say yes, find out where the crew will be calling). Do you want the crew smoking in your house? What about on your front lawn? Should they use your driveway to park their trucks? You may even want to note which rooms will be off limits entirely, to protect household furnishings.

If you're not going to be living in the house during construction, decide whether you want to give keys to your house and your alarm code a point person in the crew. You could open the door for them each day and lock up after they're gone, but if you don't live or work in the area, this might be difficult. You should give your contractor and crew a telephone number (a cell phone or pager is best) where you can be reached at all times in case of a question or an emergency.

Remember, though the crew is working for you, they are not your slaves. Don't chastise, yell or ask anyone to take on other tasks (such as planting begonias in your garden).

You are entitled to know immediately about problems, unexpected costs, and changes required in the plans. If a sink you've ordered from Italy is going to take an extra six months to arrive, you should know this up-front and have the option to cancel and order something else.

Your contract should spell out a start and end date, a payment schedule, and whether the contractor will be paid a bonus for finishing the work on time or ahead of schedule. Few contractors will agree to penalties for construction delays, though it can't hurt to ask.

Above all, be sure your contractor is bonded, insured and licensed. Decide in advance who will hire the architect to draw the detailed plans and elevations, and who will apply for the building permits. Offer to provide the contractor with a set of local building codes, available from your local city hall. Remind your builder that payment is subject to receipt of lien waivers for sub-contractors and materials.

Finally, never sign a contract with anyone until an attorney who specializes in real estate and construction contracts has reviewed it.

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