Working with subcontractors: leverage your money.

Last week we talked about having contractors in your home – just how you should interact with them and how critical a solid contract is to a good working relationship.

This week we’re focusing on how subcontractors fit into the picture.


As we mention regularly, when hiring someone to do work for you, a good written contract is worth its weight in gold! It can be critical to the success of the relationship between homeowner and contractor.

If you need an example of the contract we have used for 20 years, give us a call. There may also be free contracts online found with a quick Google search. If the contract amount is large and the work complicated, an attorney might be needed. We always state that prevention is cheaper than the cure.

In the business world, much time, energy and even money is spent hiring just the right person for the job. It’s known that most employee problems are most efficiently addressed by simply hiring the right person to begin with, instead of hiring the wrong person and dealing with poor morale, mismatched work skills or character issues later.

The same is usually true when hiring someone to come into your home to do work.

That’s why it’s important to hire someone who is not only licensed, bonded, and insured, but also recommended, by those you trust, to do the kind and quality of work you have in mind. That should bring up the use of quality subs issue if the general cannot or will not be performing all of the work required.


Let us explain a little more. If you are embarking on a major project such as an addition or remodel, you would typically hire a general contractor. The general contractor typically does a good share of the work himself but then will subcontract out parts of it that he either doesn’t like to do or doesn’t have the time or the license for.

For instance, many general contractors don’t have the license to do electrical or plumbing work. If you don’t provide the subs, the general will and it usually costs extra for the general to make the arrangements, schedule the subs, pay the subs and be responsible for their performance. This is a very typical arrangement and usually worth the headaches you’re paying not to have to figure it all out.

However, when you sign the written contract with your general, he should write down the names and license number of each sub he plans to hire and how much they will be paid. You can and should check each sub yourself on the Labor and Industries website. The company name and even the fact that they are currently licensed, bonded and insured as well as any summons and complaints are all available on this site. (If he doesn’t write down the names of the subs, it isn’t out-of-line to ask which parts of the work he intends to do himself and which parts he will be hiring out and to whom.)

Then there is the payment issue. Whom do you pay and when? Your contract should be clear who will pay for the sub’s labor and materials and when.

Electricians and plumbers often get paid 50 to 60 percent of their contract at “rough in.” That is when the new pipes or wires are in the walls and under the floor, but not connected to the “finish package” such as sink and faucets. At this point either you or the general pays them an agreed percent of the subs contract and/ or the generals, if he is paying all subs.

The point is to get an unconditional lien waiver for the amount paid to date from the sub. This is not complicated. If you do not do this and the sub has previously given you a “notice of intent to lien” to protect his rights, non-payment for his work by the general could result in your paying twice for the same work!

Making sure people get paid and having them sign a statement that proves they’ve been paid is the homeowner’s responsibility.


So, before you sign a contract with a general contractor, make sure you know exactly which company will be doing each part of the work. Then make sure the parties know what paperwork is required for payment, including signed off permit cards for the work done.

Remember, money is your only real lever to get the job done right and timely. Don’t pay ahead or for materials not successfully in place and don’t pay for bad work!

Dave Murnen and Pat Beatyare construction specialists at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is the executive director.

This is a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor County.

Do you have questions about home repair, remodeling or becoming a homeowner? Call us at 533-7828, or 1-866-533-7828, or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.


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