A must: For your protection you should draw up a detailed contract with your contractor. *iStock photo
A must: For your protection you should draw up a detailed contract with your contractor. *iStock photo
Building or renovating a home can be somewhat intimidating, especially if it’s your first time.

Your home is more than likely the biggest investment you will make and whether you are building, renovating or simply painting your roof, it’s important to hire the right person to avoid costly mistakes.

However, for a lot people hiring the right person is the biggest challenge — not to say that good contractors aren’t out there, they are.

But to be fair, based on the number and nature of complaints we receive at the Department of Consumer Affairs, consumers could avoid common mistakes if they did their homework first.

Here are some of the frequently asked questions from consumers regarding building and renovating.

How do I choose a contractor?

Very carefully. Talk to people you know who have had work done recently. They may be able to recommend contractors or tradesmen who did good work and/or warn you about those to avoid.

We always recommend you get the names of three or more contractors from whom you can get a quote.

Check their level of qualifications and experience for your type of renovation.

Ask the contractor for references (and check them) and of course, get written itemised quotes, not estimates.

Don’t accept a quote without the contractor seeing the job to be done and don’t always go with the least expensive option.

How much should I pay a contractor up front?

Do not pay for the project in full before is it completed. Usually 10 to 30 per cent is an acceptable down payment to make.

It is also wise to hold back a retainer amount, usually 10 per cent, until the job has been fully completed to your satisfaction.

Should I get a contract?

Absolutely. Get a contract that includes a commencement date, description of work to be done, materials to be used, payment schedules, completion date, and penalties for late completion of work.

If you or the contractor makes changes to the project, make sure that the contract reflects these changes, including any additional costs and changes to completion date.

Also make sure the changes are within the Planning Department guidelines.

Both you and the contractor should sign and date the original contract and any subsequent changes.

What steps should I take if my contractor does not complete my job?

File a complaint by following these steps. Make an informal request for redress (in person) to a person of authority such as the manager or business owner to allow them the opportunity to rectify the problem. Make a formal request for redress (in writing) to the business or contractor so as to provide a legal ‘paper trail’ of the dispute.

File a complaint with Consumer Affairs so that we may guide you in acquiring redress, and to provide mediation or enforcement if the issue is a criminal case. 

You may easily file a complaint on our website: www.ca.gov.bm

Consumer Affairs will guide you through the procedures of Small Claims Court if the claim is under $25,000 and mediation is unsuccessful or if the matter extends beyond our jurisdiction of enforcement.

If a contractor charges me an exorbitant fee after doing the job, do I have to pay that price?

If you did not have a quote (actual cost of the job within 10 per cent) from the contractor before the job was started, then you are liable to pay the cost charged to you by the contractor.

However, if the charges are excessive or exorbitant, the courts may view them as not being reasonable.

A reasonable price is the norm for that job in that field of trade.

Before resorting to court action, however, follow the steps outlined above.

Honey Adams is the education officer, at the Department of Consumer Affairs.