A Field Guide to Bad Home Repair and Remodeling Contracts

With 20/20 hindsight most home remodeling and repair contract disasters can be avoided. It is much harder to spot the 'fatal flaw' under the pressure of making a rushed or pressured decision. The following list of common mistakes is intended to slow down and rationalize the decision making process.

Some of these 'obvious' mistakes may sound too elementary to worry about, but our files and those at the courthouses are full of such cases.


  • or: "You must have the front porch repaired before someone falls off and sues you."

    or: "If you sign the contract today, we will reduce the price by $800 and give you a set of pots and pans!"

    or: "Every hour we wait produces more termite damage."

    HINT: If the house is on fire, call 911. If not, take the time you need to make a calm and informed decision. Help is available. Most of this information is free but even if you need to bring in an independent expert, you will find that consulting fees are a fraction of the cost of most disasters which result from rushed home repair decisions.

  • or: "This will be the end of siding problems on this house."

    or: "You will never have to worry about gutters again."

    HINT: Aren't you glad that you didn't buy the 'permanent, no maintenance' cement asbestos siding when this guy's uncle came around in 1954? By the way, if you did buy that asbestos-containing product, don't rush into a contract to remove or encapsulate the asbestos. TAKE THE TIME TO FIND OUT WHAT, IF ANYTHING, NEEDS TO BE DONE.

    The bottom line? Almost everything in a home needs some maintenance and many things will require eventual replacement.

  • or: "I can remodel your kitchen for $5000 because my overhead is so low."

    HINT: If all three bids are based on the same drawings and specifications AND they are within 20% of one another, then the low bid might be o.k. MOST CONSTRUCTION DISPUTES BEGIN WITH AN UNREALISTICALLY LOW BID.

  • and by the way, it causes no air pollution, and results in a tax refund of twice the purchase price.

    not only that, but "You have won a free trip for two...bring your checkbook to a short meeting...no obligation...and we will explain all."

    HINT: The history of home construction techniques is replete with failed miracle products. Unless you like to experiment and are willing to pay for the failures, CHOOSE TRIED AND PROVEN PRODUCTS. Promotional gifts, big discounts, expensive advertising and slick sales pitches are not free - they are paid for in the price of the product.

  • or: "Trust me...."

    HINT: A CONSTRUCTION CONTRACT PROTECTS YOU. It should be written in plain English. A good contract identifies what will be done, how it will be done, materials, model numbers, dates and payment schedules - the devil is in the details, and the details must be in writing. Drawings are a must in most remodeling projects. If you don't have a clear written understanding of what you are purchasing than you are asking for trouble. You may want to employ an independent advisor. See A Building and Remodeling Checklist.

  • or: "We don't really want to have all these inspectors running around your house, do we?"

    or: "I sent my check in for the contractor's license three months ago, but you know how government works, don't you?"

    HINT: MOST REMODELING PROJECTS REQUIRE BUILDING PERMITS. Work done without permits is usually easy to spot. Such work is characterized by poor installation, unsafe electrical wiring, and is generally sloppy. Work done without a permit may invalidate some aspects of your homeowner's insurance. A well-organized contractor will apply for a building permit early, minimizing delays. In most cases, building permits can be issued during the time it takes to plan a project.

    HINT: MOST STATES REQUIRE CONTRACTOR LICENSING. Obtaining a contractor's license in most states is also very easy. It provides you, the customer, with some protection, i.e., insurance, bonding. The basic task of a contractor is to manage the construction job. Failing to obtain a license only demonstrates the contractor's incompetence. To find out about the status of a contractor's license, contact the contractor's registration office in your state, for example the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries has an on line service which allows you to verify contractor licensing, insurance and bonding, it also lists any open claims. (If you know of any similar services in other states, please let us know about them).

  • or: "In the busy season I frame new houses; rewiring your home will be so easy for me -- I'll give you a very good price."

    or: "I learned how to roof houses from my grandfather, so putting on this type of metal roof will be easy for me."

    HINT: Most good contractors use many specialty sub-contractors. Past experience suggests that specialists can do the job better, faster, and cheaper. The specialist has also learned how to do the job in a way in which "call backs" to correct problems are kept to a minimum.

    The skills needed to build many similar houses at one time ('tract' or 'spec' building) are quite different from those needed to remodel an existing or custom home. A skilled and versatile craftsman can learn how to install many different products, however, he may not have the appropriate license, and you may be paying him for practicing on your home.

  • or: "We have some leftover material from the last job. If we start right away, we can save the 'restocking charge'..."

    or: "We are students, working our way through college..."

    or: "We are on our way to Alaska..."

    HINT: Any of these statements could be true. You might save money. Our experience suggests that it is unwise to take these statements at face value. You may end up with a poor quality job, requiring redoing.

    Quality exterior house painting, for example, SHOULD involve 80% preparation time and 20% actual time spent priming and painting. THE WELL-ESTABLISHED COMPANY, THAT DEPENDS UPON CUSTOMER AND TRADE REFERRALS, IS MORE LIKELY TO PERFORM SERVICES THAT WILL LAST.

    If you need a referral to a good roofer in the Puget Sound Area, you might want to use the Stoneway Roofing Supply Inc. Referral Service and if you need a referral service for various types of project take a look at the services of The Home Owners Club. Both companies have been serving the area's home-owners for decades and support The Sound Home Resource Center.