Thursday, August 21, 2008

When Your Contractor is a Bully

Before I start this post, I want to remind my readers that I represent both contractors and homeowners and have seen good and bad on both sides. I can certainly write the next post about nightmare homeowners, but this one focuses on a phenomenon that I have seen recently.

I have had more than one client come to me within the last few months who has been bullied by his contractor with threats of walking off the job, failing to honor warranties, and pushing homeowners into changing the scope of their projects.

The homeowners feel powerless and do not know how to handle the situation. So, here is some advice for dealing with the difficult contractor:

1. Ask yourself what if? A home renovation project can be unpleasant, invasive and overwhelming, but it should not be threatening. If your contractor is not honoring your wishes, something is going wrong. So, the first thing to do is ask yourself, what if the contractor walks off the job? Files a lien on my property? Refuses to honor the warranty?

a. Remember that the market is bad. Many contractors are out of work right now, and would be thrilled to take over your job. It is a buyers market. You are the customer. The contractor should be nice to you.

b. Start calling other contractors and get quotes to complete NOW. I have given this advice to homeowners on numerous occasions, and they frequently do not do this. It is time consuming and a pain, but knowledge is power. The more you know about your alternatives, the better off you are.

c. Name the behavior. This is a tactic frequently used in negotiations. If someone is acting like a bully, call them on it. Point out that the person is bullying you and tell him that you will no longer accept it. All change orders must be in writing and approved by you. A schedule for completion is required.

d. Learn the law. More than one state has a home improvement contractor law. Know your rights. Inform the contractor what your rights are.

e. Hire an advocate. Let's face it. Some of us can be great advocates for others in our work, or high powered executives, but when it comes to our homes, we act completely differently. There are all kinds of professionals who are ready to come in and intervene on your behalf. There are now home contracting consultants and attorneys who will negotiate with your contractor for you. Even a trusted friend can play that role if you are not comfortable. It is possible that the contractor may prefer dealing with that person rather than interacting with you.

f. Be realistic. A homeowner recently told me her contractor told her that he would not honor his warranty unless she gave him a good reference. Aside from the fact that you would be foisting that contractor on another unsuspecting homeowner, do you really think this person will be responsive when something breaks? Do you want to be the victim of blackmail? Can you trust this person to do a good job? You might be better off cutting your losses and terminating the relationship (make sure you do not breach your contract) rather than continuing with someone who treats you like that.

g. Look for signs. Finally, pay attention to your instincts and notice the red flags. Every single homeowner I have spoken to who has a "bully" contractor has told me that the signs were there from the beginning. The contractors were evasive, pushy, insistent, instilling urgency into the process, etc. If you sense any of this from your contractor, bring it out into the open. If the contractor is not responsive, run run in the opposite direction, and do not hire that person.

Life is too short to spend months dealing with a bully.