Hiring a Contractor

Finding a good contractor is important —a project gone wrong can cost you.

A good advertisement isn’t proof a contractor does quality work. Find out for yourself. Check with fellow priests, parishioners, or neighbors who have had improvement work done. Find out how long they’ve been in business. Look for an established company whose record and reputation you can check out.

Check for qualifications, like licensing. Requirements could range from simple registration to a detailed qualification process. Check with the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation at (617) 973-8787.

Before You Hire

Get estimates. Once you’ve narrowed your options, get written estimates from several firms. Don’t automatically choose the lowest bidder. Ask for an explanation to see if there’s a reason for the difference in price.

Ask Questions:

  • How many projects like mine have you completed in the last year? Ask for a list so you can see how familiar the contractor is with your type of project.
  • Will my project require a permit? Most states and localities require permits for building projects, even for simple jobs like decks. A competent contractor will get all the necessary permits before starting work on your project.
  • May I have a list of references? A contractor should be able to give you names, addresses, and phone numbers of at least three clients with projects like yours. Ask each client how long ago the project was and whether it was completed on time. Was the client satisfied? Were there any unexpected costs? Did workers show up on time and clean up after finishing the job? You also could tell the contractor that you’d like to visit jobs in progress.

Insurance Considerations

In order to ensure that funds are available in the event something goes wrong as a result of the contractor’s negligence, it is important to verify that the contractor has an appropriate level of liability, property, and workers’ compensation insurance. Do this by requesting a Certificate of Insurance. Request that the Certificate of Insurance lists your parish, school or institution, as well as the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston, a Corporate Sole, and Cardinal Sean O’Malley as additional insured. Ask if the contractor will be using subcontractors on this project. If so, you will need Certificates of Insurance from them as well.

For more information on Certificates of Insurance, click here.

Certificates of Insurance – A Primer

Payment Options

Don’t pay cash. For smaller projects, you can pay by check or credit card. Many people arrange financing for larger projects. Try to make payments during the project contingent upon completion of defined amounts of work, just in case the work doesn’t go according to schedule.

Get It in Writing

Always obtain a written contract. It should be clear and concise and include the who, what, where, when, and cost of your project. Make sure a contract includes the following:

  • The contractor’s name, address, phone, and license number (if required)
  • An estimated start and completion date
  • The payment schedule for the contractor, subcontractors, and suppliers
  • The contractor’s obligation to get all necessary permits
  • How change orders are handled. A change order is a written authorization to the contractor to make a change or addition to the work described in the original contract, and could affect the project’s cost and schedule.
  • Detailed list of all materials including each product’s color, model, size, and brand. If some materials will be chosen later, the contract should say who’s responsible for choosing each item and how much money is budgeted for it (this is also known as the “allowance”).
  • Information about warranties covering materials and workmanship, with names and addresses of who is honoring them —the contractor, distributor, or manufacturer. The length of the warranty period and any limitations should be spelled out.
  • What the contractor will and won’t do. For example, is site clean-up and trash hauling included in the price? Ask for a “broom clause” that makes the contractor responsible for all clean-up work, including spills and stains.
  • Any promises made during conversations or calls. If they don’t remember, you may be out of luck —or charged extra.

After Hiring a Contractor

Keep all paperwork related to your project in one place. This includes copies of the contract, change orders, any correspondence with the contractor, and a record of all payments. Keep a log or journal of all phone calls, conversations, and activities. You also might want to take photographs as the job progresses. These records are especially important if you have problems with your project —during or after construction.
Pay Wisely. Don’t make the final payment or sign an affidavit of final release until you’re satisfied. Besides being satisfied with the work, you also need to know that subcontractors and suppliers have been paid. Protect yourself by asking the contractor, and every subcontractor and supplier, for a lien release or lien waiver.
Know when you can withhold payment. If you have a problem with merchandise or services charged to a credit card, and you’ve made a good faith effort to work out the problem with the seller, you have the right to contact your credit card company and withhold payment from the card issuer for the merchandise or services. You can withhold payment up to the amount of credit outstanding for the purchase, plus any finance or related charges.

Use a Sign-Off Checklist

Before making the final payment, be sure:

  • All work meets the standards spelled out in the contract.
  • You have written warranties for materials and workmanship.
  • You have proof that all subcontractors and suppliers have been paid.
  • The job site has been cleaned up and cleared of excess materials, tools, and equipment.
  • You have inspected and approved the completed work.

The information above is adapted from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s guide, “Hiring a Contractor.” For more information, go to: www.consumer.ftc.gov

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