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Home Improvement and Contractors

Welcome to the Contractors and Home Improvement section of FindLaw's Real Estate Center. Most homeowners need to hire a contractor at some point. Sometimes homeowners want to redo their kitchen, add another bedroom, or repair a water-damaged floor. Whatever your reason for calling a contractor, you should be aware of the various legal issues involved. For instance, contractors should be licensed and bonded; and rates for jobs may vary quite a bit from one contractor to the next. This section will introduce you to the various legal issues surrounding contractors so that you can begin that next big home improvement project as a well-informed consumer.

Finding the Right Contractor

When you search for a contractor, you want to make sure they have the right mix of experience, skill level, and professionalism. You also want to ensure that you don't get ripped off, which can be difficult when you don't know exactly what a particular job is worth. One of the best ways to find a quality contractor is through word-of-mouth, whether it's from neighbors and friends or online review sites. Online research can also help you determine the typical price range for your job (which can vary quite a bit from one region to another).

Once you've narrowed down your search, you may want to ask the contractor(s) a few questions, including the following:

  • How long have you been doing this kind of work?
  • Are you licensed and bonded? What is your contractor license number?
  • How many jobs like mine have you completed? Can I have some references?
  • Are you working with subcontractors as well? Do they have licenses and insurance coverage?

Home Improvement Contracts at a Glance

Any work that is done should be thoroughly described in a written home improvement contract, including the estimated cost. Some but not all states require written contracts, but it's always best to have a document of the agreement in case there is a problem. Contracts may have different levels of detail, but should include the following (this is a partial list):

  • Name, address, phone number, and license number of contractor
  • Payment schedule (supplies, time, etc.)
  • Estimated start/completion date
  • Procedure for change orders (these are changes to the original plan, and often the cost, for the project)
  • Explanation of warranties for materials and/or workmanship

Contractor Liens: Overview

If you fail to pay your contractor for work performed (within the parameters of the contract), then they may file what is known as a mechanic's lien or construction lien. Suppliers also may file liens if they are not paid. Liens typically are filed with the county records office and are claims on the amount owed. While the contractor may collect on the lien by foreclosing on it, they typically use the lien as leverage to encourage payment.

The best way to have a lien removed is to simply pay what is owed. But if there is a dispute over the work performed or if you find yourself out of funds, you may have to consider other options. For instance, you may have lost your job and can no longer afford to pay what you owe for a home improvement project. In that instance, you probably would be wise to negotiate a payment plan with the contractor. They just want to get paid and generally do not want to go through the trouble of foreclosing on a lien.

Working with contractors is a normal part of home ownership. Learn more about home improvement and building contractors by clicking on a topic below.

Learn About Home Improvement and Contractors