Keeping a Home Renovation on Track

Ohio attorney James T. Dixon offers suggestions for a successful project

For many people, the pandemic gave them a little too much time at home—and while they were there, they began noticing things. Flooring that needed fixed, paint that needed spruced up, a roof that needed replaced.

For contractors, that means business has skyrocketed.

“People spent enough time staring at the colors of their walls and the finishes in their bathrooms and their kitchens, and the activity definitely picked up,” says James T. Dixon, a construction litigator at Brouse McDowell in Cleveland.

Construction complications

But when working with a contractor on a home renovation project, it’s important to make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed.

“Projects tend to be more complicated than you might think, even when compared to commercial and industrial work,” Dixon says. “Unlike commercial and industrial work, the emotions involved are different and can be much more intense, and those things combine to create a situation where everyone should proceed carefully.”

The first thing to keep in mind is your budget. “Set a budget and plan to stick to it, and also plan to have some reserves,” Dixon recommends. Cost overruns, he cautions, almost always pop up. Also schedule the work at a time that works well for you. Finally, pay close attention to the quality of the contractor’s work.

Be choosy about your contractor

“Selecting the right contractor is absolutely the most important part of the process, and there are a couple of aspects to that,” he says. “You have to select a contractor that's a good fit for your personality, [but] you have to understand that contractors who are very good at their work might not necessarily be very good at the sales aspect of the job or the interpersonal aspect of the job.”

It pays to talk to as many people as possible who have used the contractor in the past, to find out if they did a good job and whether they were difficult to work with. You can ask for references, but Dixon says, “They're likely going to give you references to just the happy customers.”

There are ways to go beyond references. Dixon advises checking building permits in your city to find other people who have hired the contractor; check online records at local courthouses to find out if the contractor has been involved in litigation. “Some litigation is part of doing business with contractors,” he notes. “If there's a lot recently, then that's the kind of stuff you want to know and ask questions about.”

Also important is making sure the person you chose to work with will be the one focused on your project. “If there is a particular member of the contractor's staff that you expect to be working with, because that's the person who's going to provide the right quality control and appropriate coordination, then you want to find out how often that person plans to be on the job, and you want to write that into your contract,” Dixon advises.

Tips for a smooth home renovation

Research your contractor thoroughly

Know who will be supervising your project

Set a budget and expect overruns

Consider hiring an attorney to draft/review your contract

Know your legal rights

When to hire an attorney

For advice on how the process works and what steps to take, it’s a good idea to consult an experienced attorney, at least to have them prepare or review your contract. “I tend to think that people should be asking for legal help more often than they do, because this is really a situation where an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure,” Dixon says.

Under Ohio law, contractors must complete the project in a workmanlike fashion, and bad work can be the subject of a claim for four years—in effect, a four-year workmanship warranty. That doesn’t make it any less important to spend time researching the person who will take on your project.

“I see a lot of problems that come up,” Dixon says. “Significant effort has to be put in to choosing the right contractor and checking references, finding other references, researching lawsuits, anything that you can do to make sure that you've got the right person.”

For more information, see our construction litigation overview.

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