Saturday, September 29, 2007

Servicemagic.com

I am not in the habit of endorsing contractors or contractor referral services, but I do like to make the public aware that they exist. I recently had a problem with a garbage disposal and contacted servicemagic.com. They responded with the names of three contractors in my area and I could read reviews of their services online. At least one or two called me right away. As it happens, I solved the problem myself, but I was impressed by how organized and efficient they are.

A potential client had a similar experience with servicemagic when looking for aluminum siding and roofing contractors. They responded quickly and he was pleased with the service. I am going to follow their website and review their advice from time to time, but so far, I am happy to report that customers have been satisfied.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Questions to Ask a Contractor's References

How many times have you been advised to check someone's references? How many times were those references less than glowing? References are only as valuable as the information they provide, so the burden is on the homeowner to ask good, specific questions that will let him know whether the proposed contractor is a good match. So, here are some questions to ask, in no particular order:

1. Did your job come in according to budget?

2. How often did the contractor come to your home?

3. How often did the crew come to your home?

4. If the contractor was not there, was there someone with the authority to answer your questions and make decisions?

5. Were change orders in writing?

6. Did the job finish on time?

7. If not, why?

8. How did the contractor leave the site at the end of the day?

9. Did you feel it was safe?

10. Did the contractor obtain necessary permits?

11. What hours did the contractor work?

12. Did the contractor have other jobs going at the same time that you know of? If so, did he or she have enough workers to cover both jobs?

13. Were you consulted about materials used?

14. Was the crew pleasant?

15. Did the work pass inspection?

16. Were you given a clear idea of what the contractor was going to do for you?

17. Were the results what you expected?

18. Were you happy with the contractor's subcontractors?

19. How big was your job, and what kind of work did the contractor do for you?

20. Would you work with this contractor again?

Asking informed questions should help you decide whether your contractor is right for you. Hopefully, as a result, you will have a long-time productive relationship that results in a magnificent final product.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Suing a Builder-Part II

I have written about suing a builder for new construction previously, but I would like to spell out in more detail the remedies that a homeowner (or even commercial construction for that matter) may have when a dispute arises.

As I have now stated over and over, the place to start is with a good contract. Particularly when new construction is involved, there are usually benchmarks for progress payments. Homeowners should be particularly vigilant regarding those benchmarks, and builders should be clear about which work needs to be completed and whose approval is required before the payment is made. On the builder side, it is nice when those payments are automatic upon inspection (bank or town should be specified). The homeowner may want to include a provision that he/she should be allowed to inspect before payment is issued, but the builder should be able to protect himself at that point so the homeowner cannot have full power to determine the definition of what constitutes completion.

If the homeowner is not happy, he should start out with a demand letter to the builder spelling out the problems, and if in MA, write the letter pursuant to c. 93A. If delay is the problem, then the homeowner should negotiate a new schedule for completion with the builder and each party should sign off on it. If quality is a problem, the homeowner may want to bring in an independent inspector to evaluate the work and write down which corrective measures must be taken. If the property does not pass inspection, the building inspector will specify what needs to be done to bring the structure into compliance.

In any event, once quality or delay is an issue, there should be a clear cut agreement about when the contract will be considered breached, and what the remedies will be for the breach of contract. The homeowner should be able to know at which point she can hire someone else, and the builder should ensure that he will be paid for work to date or even the full value of the contract if the homeowner terminates it unlawfully.

Homeowners have two means of securing judgments against builders. They can either prevent progress payments, and/or maintain an amount for retainage until the work is complete (usually when a certificate of occupancy is obtained and punch list items are completed), or file suit and move to attach the builder's property.

Putting a lien on property is more difficult with new construction because if the builder is incorporated you can only obtain a lien on corporate property. Under the Home Improvement Statute, the company's designee is individually liable, but that does not apply to new construction.

When new construction is involved, the approach to a dispute is similar to that of a renovation or addition issue, but the law does not provide as many built-in protections. That is why a good contract is even more important for new construction, and why homeowners should monitor the work.