Nailing it down — Hiring a contractor? Make sure to have things in writing.

As the economy picks up a little, more people are hiring contractors to help with home fix-up and remodeling projects.

If you’re about to embark on such a project, that’s great for you, your home and for our ailing economy — it gets the money circulating, again.

Once the decision is made, most folks want to jump in and get’er done, too often, without a written plan or the management tools to assure success. We respectfully submit the following advice about reducing risk, scopes of work, hiring good contractors, and contracts.

Risk: Grays Harbor has plenty of solid, talented and trustworthy builders — and right now many of them are especially eager for work. However, sadly, we do hear evidence of some who are neither trustworthy – nor competent. If you hire the wrong person or company you can risk losing money, time, and sometimes even your house — not to mention trust in your fellow man.


For some this might seem elementary, but we would be remiss if we didn’t reiterate: When hiring contractors always check that they are licensed, bonded and insured. It is important for your safety and for theirs!


Before entering into a contract, it needs to be clear what you are asking the bidding contractors to do.

For a simple example, like putting down a new floor or installing a new bathtub, it’s should be made clear what the job entails. It is relevant to detail whether tearing up and removing the old stuff is included in the price. It is also relevant to know who is expected to move out the furniture, appliances, toilets, hot water tanks and the like and how much that will cost. Don’t forget about who gets to put it all back and what about that old tub or other construction debris!

Do you get what we mean by this little example job? The devil is in the details and the details should be made known and put in writing so everybody knows what to do to get paid. It is called a proposal and gets signed by both parties for such little jobs.

For more complex jobs, such as adding a room or fixing a foundation, you should develop a more detailed, written scope of work. It should outline exactly what you want done, even what materials and name brands you want used, color and texture choices, etc.

Getting code handouts and permit advice from your building department can help you understand what the contractor must do to meet code requirements. It will also familiarize you with the terms used when describing the work and defining the finished product.

A scope of work should include sizes, name brands and quality of materials, whenever possible. Use whatever it takes to convey your dream project: drawings, pictures or full blown prints. Do you need a designer or architect to best convey your dream project?

Once you are in control of the “what-I-want-built,” part you will have something that each contractor can bid upon, equally, meaning they have the same description and specifications, time constraints and conditions.

Ideally, you will want to secure two or three qualified bids, or maybe you have a great contractor to work with and only need the one.

In any case, having a “bid due date” will weed-out the casual bidder and show the others that you are serious.

Hopefully all competitive bids will come within 10-20 percent of each other.

When bids come in close to each other it usually means that the scope of work was clear and that you represented yourself and your project the same to each contractor. Now you are ready to make your choice.


The lowest bid isn’t always the best choice. The timing of the work, the best job referrals, the most complete, detailed and organized bid, willingness to work without a cash deposit, cost per man hour for hidden damage and even your first impressions and inner comfort with a contractor are a few of the criteria you might use to make your best choice.

We like contractors that provide or are used to signing a written contract that protects both parties.


Successful working relationships with most contractors are usually determined by being well prepared. That means good plans, a realistic and fully funded budget and mutual respect.

But even after a great plan and solid financing, the best of the legal glue that binds a well intentioned contractor to the job is a detailed scope of work and a rock-solid written contract. That contract should at least describe what is going to happen, for how much, how long it will take and what will happen when either party fails to perform to the contract. Do you need legal help? “An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.”

We believe strongly that doing just this much preventative management will greatly increase the chances for a successful project.


Do you want to buy a house? You need homebuyer education first. Want the education at your house and at your best learning time? You want eHome

Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are 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 for all residents of Grays Harbor County.

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