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North Hills Monthly

Hiring the Wrong Contractor Can Cost You in the Long Run

Feb 27, 2015 06:38PM ● By Vanessa Orr
Looking at my bathroom ceiling makes me mad. Not only does it leak every time it rains or the snow melts, but the beautiful paint job that I did last summer is now bubbling, and growing who-knows-what beneath the surface.

And even though the problems I’m having are caused by the fact that my roofing contractor did a horrible job, what really drives me crazy is that, technically, it’s my fault.

According to the Builders Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, doing research before you start a project is the single best step to ensuring that the job is done right. Before hiring my roofer, I’d asked around to find out if other people knew him, and I’d heard that he did work for some well-known house designers, but I didn’t follow up and check the names that I’d been given. Nor did I ask to see written proof of insurance—a subject that this contractor avoided every time I asked. I didn’t do my research.

So now I’m stuck with a ceiling that’s about to cave in, and despite numerous calls, the contractor is nowhere to be found. And now I have to pay another roofer to fix the first roofer’s work and call someone to re-drywall the bathroom walls—and there’s nothing I can do but pull out the checkbook.

So how do you avoid hiring a contractor who isn’t qualified to do the work? While contractors are required to register with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office, this registration is NOT an endorsement of their honesty or quality of work. Once registered, contractors are required to provide written estimates, contracts and change orders under certain guidelines provided in the law. The law also limits how much homeowners must pay in advance of the project. Contractors are required to provide customers with their registration number so that they can verify their information—which should only be the first step you take when it comes to hiring someone to work on your home.

“Basically, the rule is buyer beware,” said Jim Eichenlaub, executive director, Builders Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh (BAMP). “There are a lot of people who hire a contractor because someone else knew them, or because it’s so-and-so’s cousin. This is one reason why there are so many cautionary tales.

“Not only should you ask for references, but you should check them, and make sure that the contractor you hire is skilled and experienced in the type of project you’re doing,” he continued. “You shouldn’t hire a roofer to replace windows—not all contractors do all types of work.”

Eichenlaub also suggests getting multiple bids for projects, and making sure that the amount of insurance that a contractor carries is enough to cover the job should something go wrong. “We recommend that our BAMP members carry a higher level of insurance than is required by law,” he said. “And as a consumer, you need to make sure that their coverage covers the cost of the project—if you’ve got a half-million dollar project and they’re carrying $250,000 in insurance, that’s a red flag.” He adds that all contractors should provide a physical address for their business—not a P.O. box—in case legal notices need to be served.

One of the best places to find a qualified contractor is through an association like BAMP, which requires members to adhere to a code of ethics and commit to the profession through continued education. “It’s important that contractors stay up-to-date, because codes are always changing,” said Eichenlaub. BAMP is one of the oldest builders’ associations in the country, and includes more than 600 companies in Allegheny and surrounding counties.

Once you’ve found a legitimate contractor, it’s important to establish strong, two-way communication to ensure that the project is completed in the way that you want it. “It’s extremely important that the contract spell out exactly what the client has in mind in order to prevent problems later,” said Eichenlaub. “Sometimes a client’s expectations are higher that what has been outlined in the contract—this doesn’t mean that the contractor provided shoddy work or is incompetent—but that the client’s expectations are different than what was agreed upon.”

The contract should include a number of elements, including a timetable for the project, price and payment schedule, detailed specifications for all products and materials, insurance information, permit information, procedures for handling change orders, lien releases, provisions for conflict resolution, notice of right to cancel, and other details, such as how trash will be removed from the work site. Any subcontractors should also be listed in the contract.

“Strong communication is key when it comes to working with a contractor, and it is especially important to get change orders or alterations in writing,” said Eichenlaub. “Both parties need to sign off on any changes, including the cost, to prevent misunderstandings.”

To learn more about hiring contractors or to see a list of qualified professionals, visit BAMP at Registration information is available at More information is also available through the National Association of Home Builders at

Thinking of hiring a contractor?
Ask these questions first!
  • How long have you been in business? What types of work and written warranty do you provide?
  • Can I have the names and contact information of current and previous customers? (Don’t just obtain the names—take the time to check them.)
  • What level of involvement will you have with the project?
  • Will you provide a written estimate of the project that clearly outlines the work to be performed and a breakdown of expenses? (This is a must!)
  • Will you provide a written contract? (Don’t start without it!)

Other tips:
  • Be VERY cautious of unusually low-priced bids. Always get more than one and compare.
  • Ask about construction specifications and required independent and government inspections.
  • If remodeling, ask about the demolition, cleanup process and EPA regulations if your home was built before 1978.
  • Ask for copies of current workers’ compensation and general liability insurance. Is it appropriate to the size of your project?
(List courtesy Builders Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh)