Among the first steps in any successful home construction project is finding the right home improvement contractor. Believe me, it’s a dirty industry that can be difficult to navigate for even the most seasoned homeowners and general contractors. With Johnson County’s massive growth, it has become possible for even the worst contractors and shady handymen to stay in business. Here are my top five tips to help you find the right remodeling contractor for your project.
1. Verify the Business
The first step in determining the right remodeler for you is verifying a legitimate business.
For Kansas businesses: Kansas Business Entity Search
For Missouri Businesses: Missouri Business Entity Search.
A great majority of the unfortunate stories we hear of savings lost, homes destroyed, and lives ruined, start with an unregistered business, or Doing Business As (d.b.a.). Kansas allows single-member LLCs to remain unregistered and operate as a d.b.a.
Operating as an unregistered company is not necessarily illegal, but it does give you a clue as to the motivation and intent of that person. Do you want someone in your home, taking your money, who doesn’t have passion and motivation for their own business? If they hold their own business in such low regard, how do you think they’ll care for your home?
And lastly, when things go wrong, and you decide to take your unregistered company to court, remember that you can’t squeeze blood from a stone. Small, unregistered businesses don’t have assets to go after (because a d.b.a. is not a “business” as assets are concerned) and their owners won’t have the capital to cover a settlement, let alone a lawsuit.
On the other hand, a registered remodeling company doesn’t mean it’s the right company for you.
Next on the list,
2. Verify the License
Johnson County contractor licensing is required for:
- Class A: General Contractor
- Class B: Building Contractor
- Class C: Residential Contractor
- Class DE: Electrical Contractor
- Class DF: Fire Protection Contractor
- Class DM: Mechanical Contractor
- Class DP: Plumbing Contractor
- Class DR: Roofing Contractor
- Class DS: Swimming Pool Contractor
- Class DW: Wood Framing Contractor
For residential remodeling any number of these licenses could be required, but for homeowners it’s usually easiest to let your General or Residential Contractor handle all the other trades since they’ll be (or should be) verifying licenses for their building permit application.
What you, homeowner, need to worry about is your contractor’s license. Too many homeowners trust that anyone with a business card and a truck also has the required and current license.
Verifying a license is very easy:
- Web: Johnson County Kansas Contractor Licensing
- Phone: 913-715-2233
A fun, easy exercise is to ask your contractor for their license number. They’ll either have an answer, or a squirm. Verify it.
Without a license, they can’t get permits. No permit, you’ll have no inspection. Without all of that, your massive, new, finished basement remodel might not even be considered by the appraiser because it wasn’t permitted work. Buh-bye return on investment! Any homeowner can get their own construction permit, so you might consider this a moot point, but really? Do you really think it’s a snap to get a permit? Do you know who can’t help you do it? Your unlicensed contractor.
Mortise & Miter is a Class C Residential Contractor, license #2021-0166 (next year it will be 2022-0166, et sic porro).
3. Verify Proof of Insurance
When you allow an uninsured worker in your home, you’ve opened yourself up to a lawsuit. There’s no more succinct way to state it. If they become injured, they can sue you. If the faucet they replaced springs a leak while everyone is gone, damaging two stories worth of floors, ceilings, and furniture, it’s your homeowner’s insurance that will have to cover it. Think you’ll get it back in court? You should re-read tip #1.
You could sue the uninsured contractor, but like we talked about earlier you might not have anything to go after, and the court battle will be a headache. They’ll file for bankruptcy, maybe clear some unsecured credit card debt in the process and go about their day.
Wouldn’t it be easier to verify proof of insurance while you’re vetting candidates?
The Johnson County, KS contracting office estimates that up to 20% of all registered contractors are under-insured. It’s safe to assume that most unregistered contractors are completely uninsured. It’s up to you, homeowners, to verify insurance not only for your contractor, but also all the subcontractors they may use along the way.
Local requirements are relatively simple:
Before a license will be issued, the contractor shall furnish to Contractor Licensing, Johnson County, Kansas, a Certificate of Insurance verifying such coverage.
INSURANCE: The contractor shall be required to maintain and carry in force, for the duration of the license, insurance coverage and a Certificate of Insurance verifying such coverage as set forth below.
A minimum of one million dollars ($1,000,000.00) combined single limit per occurrence for bodily injury, personal injury and property damage and a minimum one million dollars ($1,000,000.00) completed operations provisions.
(Include all states endorsements) Before a license will be issued, the contractor shall furnish to Contractor Licensing, Johnson County, Kansas, a Certificate of Insurance verifying such coverage.
Worker’s Compensation and Employer’s Liability
Worker’s Compensation as required by Kansas Statutes. If the contractor is exempt from the Worker’s Compensation requirements, the contractor must submit a letter stating the exemption.
Employer’s Liability $100,000 each occurrence. (Include all states endorsements)
– JOHNSON COUNTY, KS CONTRACTOR LICENSING INSURANCE REQUIREMENTS
A good construction contractor maintains copies of all their subs’ insurance certificates and verifies before every job is awarded; just because they had proof of insurance at one point, doesn’t mean they’ve maintained it. It’s also important to understand that not every contractor needs every type of insurance. When in doubt, call your county contractor licensing office.
When you hire the lowest bidder from outside of town to do work, you must understand that low-bidders oftentimes carry no insurance, reducing overhead, allowing them to charge less. They know that you just volunteered to insure your own project and the company’s employees while they’re on your property.
4. Get it in Writing
I cannot stress how important a detailed contract is to the success of your home remodeling project. Just like good fences make good neighbors, good contracts make good contractor relations.
What Should be in a Remodeling Contract?
At a minimum you should see these paragraphs:
Contractor and owner information complete with methods of communication.
Owner-supplied materials. How does the contractor handle it? Allowances? Not at all? With warranty exceptions?
Change Order process. This should go into extensive detail on what initiates them, any additional preparation fees, how they’ll be paid for, and how – if at all – resulting contract alterations will be handled.
Damages to the project and insurance. What are the minimum homeowner and contractor insurance requirements? What happens in cases of theft or acts of nature? Who is responsible for the jobsite, and when?
Actions on default. This should apply to both you and the contractor. What happens if you stop paying, and what happens if they stop showing up? Why would these occur, and what is the resolution?
Mechanics lien statement. This must be addressed in the contract for any pre-construction lien to hold-up in court. It should also state the terms for its waiver.
Dispute resolution. Could be mediation, arbitration, or straight to court. Whatever it is, make sure it’s in writing.
Warranty. All due respect to Tommy Boy, but if the warranty period and conditions aren’t in writing, then you effectively have no warranty.
Signatures. Kansas requires the signatures of all owners.
Scope of work. Needs to address not only the scope, but also any exclusions, specifications (including any plans, drawings, elevations), and timeline with start date.
Payment. Total project cost, initial deposit, draw schedule with dates, and trigger for final payment. Final payment should be an appropriate amount for customer holdback, between 1% and 10% of the total project cost, and should not be unfavorable to the homeowner. We go with 10% standard. Trigger for final payment is typically a Certificate of Final Completion after final joint walkthrough and/or Certificate of Occupation from the city.
Notice of Cancellation. This paragraph, written exactly as Kansas law requires, should be in every contract you sign:
YOU, THE BUYER, MAY CANCEL THIS TRANSACTION AT ANY TIME PRIOR TO MIDNIGHT OF THE THIRD BUSINESS DAY AFTER THE DATE OF THIS TRANSACTION. REFER TO K.S.A.50-6 SECTION 40 – CONSUMER PROTECTION, INCORPORATED HERE BY REFERENCE, FOR AN EXPLANATION OF THIS RIGHT.
“Business day” means any calendar day except Sunday, or any legal holiday as defined by K.S.A. 60-206 and amendments thereto. Short version: Kansas gives you three business days to cancel a signed contract.
Contracts should do as effective a job of outlining customer protection as it does contractor protection. If it seems massively one-sided, it probably is. Contracts are living documents, tailored for each project and customer. If you want to add or altar something, there’s nothing wrong with asking!
5. BE SUSPICIOUS OF EXCESSIVE DOWN PAYMENTS
Johnson County, Kansas puts no cap on the maximum down payment a contractor can request, and to make it worse home improvement websites suggest numbers completely void of contractual context.
On larger projects (GC-driven with multiple trade partners) a down payment gets subs locked-in, material orders in the pipeline, and shows a financial commitment to the project itself. On projects even as low as $10K, I wouldn’t expect to see a down payment of more than 20%.
Smaller, single-trade projects, e.g., tile, cabinets, or paint, commonly ask for 50% up front, but it’s important to understand why. Cabinets are special-order and probably non-refundable, so a 50% deposit is probably going to the cost of getting the cabinets ordered, with labor, profit, and overhead coming from the remaining 50%.
Likewise with tile, but while materials might cost less, the project might take a little longer. 50% might be more reasonable instead of multiple draws that would be spread-out over days rather than weeks or months.
Or maybe the lowest bidder from out-of-town who requires no license, and has no registered business, knows that a 50% down-payment is commonplace for handymen and specialty trades that they know they can get it before disappearing.
How do you avoid this? Communication and Tips #1-4 above.
No legit contractor should take offense to being asked how the deposit is utilized or when material delivery can be expected. The answer shouldn’t require a lot of thought or tapdancing.
Neighborhood recommendations are great, but nothing takes the place of good ol’ vigilance and research. Will following all these tips guarantee the perfect remodeling experience? Nothing is perfect or guaranteed in life. But it will get you damn close, with all the protections you deserve, and with a great deal more confidence!
Still looking for the right company? See if we’re the best match for you at MortiseAndMiter.com!