Dear Mr. Marantz,
We are often reading your columns in Winnipeg Free Press. One of the advisories that we are trying to follow up on, is to get a proper contract from a contractor. We wanted to have a woodstove installed and after obtaining quotes we asked for a written contract containing a statement that the installers are WETT certified and WCB insured. We also asked for a warranty to be included. We expected that one year on installation would not be unreasonable.
One of the contractors faxed us a quotation and noted that “above price based on site unseen”, confirmed that “our staff is WETT certified and WCB covered, listed the manufacturers warranty, but refused to offer any warranty in writing on labour and installation. He did not say so in writing, but is asking for 40% of parts as deposit to hold the price and book the installation date.
Another contractor promised us a warranty, but has been delaying providing us with anything in writing, except for the initial quote, for the last 2 weeks. He booked a tentative date and said that he will require a 15% deposit. To date, despite promises, we have not seen any contract. He asked his installer to provide it in writing and now the installer is nervous.
Both companies have good standing with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and have had no complaints in the last 3 years. One has been in business for over 20 years, the other 5 years.
Our question is:
Are we being unreasonable? Is what they are doing standard and acceptable practice? What are our options?
Your prompt response is greatly appreciated as we are running out of time.
The concerns you have in dealing with contractors and your demands are certainly not unreasonable. I can’t count the number of clients and others that have complained to me, over the years, of nightmarish dealings with contractors during home renovations. You should do all you can to protect yourselves from sloppy or dishonest contractors. This is especially important when dealing with potential major life-safety hazards, such as a wood stove installation.
Obtaining a contract signed by you and the contractor, outlining exactly what products and services are to be offered and the exact costs, will help prevent disagreements or problems after completion of the work. The contract should include an itemized cost of labour and material, including the make, model and specifications of the woodstove, chimney, and other components needed for the job. Any items that may be additional to those specifically included, and not determinable prior to starting the job, should be noted with approximate costs. Any manufacturer’s warranties should be listed as well. Warranties on labour from the contractor are only as good as the company you are dealing with. If they have their own employees doing the work, you are more likely to get results in honouring any warranty. If they deal with sub-contractors to do the installation, warranties may be all but worthless. If you can get something on paper from the actual installation contractor, it may have some minimal value.
Rather than concerning yourself with warranties on labour, a better route to go is asking for references from past customers. If the contractor can provide you with two or three names of satisfied homeowners that you can contact or visit to see their wood stoves, that is the best assurance. Checking with the BBB is a good idea, but physically seeing their work and talking to past customers is the best approach. Insisting that the contractor’s employees are covered by Workers Compensation and WETT certified is very prudent thinking, on your part. You may also want to inquire if the company has CGL (General Liability) Insurance, in case of accidental damage to your home or personal injuries to anyone, during renovations.
The contractor asking for a deposit to cover cost of materials, prior to commencing work, is not unreasonable or unusual. This should not exceed 50% of the total cost of the material and labour. You should also know that legally you are entitled to a small holdback, for a specific period of time, after completion of the work to ensure all sub-trades are paid. Check with a lawyer for specific details about this holdback.
The final two issues that you have failed to mention are permits and insurance. The contract should spell out who is responsible, physically and financially, for obtaining the proper permits for installation and inspection of the new wood stove. This is critical to ensure safety of installation. Also, proof of inspection may be required by your home insurer. Contact your insurance carrier or broker to inquire about requirements with the addition of a wood-burning appliance to your home. The insurer may require an inspection, by an inspector of their choice, and may add an additional premium to the cost of your insurance.
Dealing with contractors for home renovations, especially when direct referrals are not possible, can be either a simple or a horrible experience. I always recommend to my clients to look for companies or contractors that have been in business for many years. You may find that the contractors offering properly signed contracts, with specific details about the work to be completed, are the ones that have been around the longest. This is because the contract may be as valuable to them, as it is to the homeowner, in case of a dispute. Ensuring thing are properly laid out on paper, prior to commencement of any work, will be the best warranty of a job done to the satisfaction of all involved.