by Kenneth Moore


If it sounds like Greek to you... or better yet Russian, you are spot on because it is.  In fact, "doveryai, no proveryai"  is a Russian proverb made famous here in the U.S.  by President Ronald Reagan... "Trust but verify!".  It became one of his most favorite signature phrases.  At the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) signing in Washington DC, between the United States and the Soviet Union. General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev asked President Reagan why he used the phrase at every meeting?  Reagan's reply was. "I like it!"

Reagan liked it and so should you.  More importantly, when it comes to work on your home... you should live, eat and breathe it.  I hear and see more instances of homeowners getting cheated because the contractors for a service require money up front.  If they can get 100% or even 50% the chances of you never seeing them again become greatly increased.  Nobody should ever have to pay 100% up front and if a service provide (painter, electrician, plumber, contractor, etc.) ever tries to bully you into paying for it all even before they begin work... find another guy. It really does not matter that your mother recommended them and swears to their honesty.  Banks would NEVER give contractors 100%... EVER.  Banks will provide the contractor with only as much as is needed or is shown to be completed.  As third party independent inspectors we are often called upon to photograph and provide proof of job completions before the bank will release money to the contractors.  These are called "Draw Inspections".  The bank will agree to a specified amount of money for a job and then pay a percentage of whenever the job has been completed according to the percentage of completion.  If 30% of the job is finished they will release 30% of the funds.   Forty percent will get them 40% of the agreed upon funds and so on and so forth. 

In negotiating any project it is common practice for any contractor to ask for 30% upfront.  This is to cover their cost of materials.  This way the contractor is not stiffed by the consumer.  Both parties have a vested interest in completing the job.  You often hear about homeowners getting taken advantage of but believe it or not contractors can also end up holding the short end of the stick.  I know of cases where the contractor purchased raw materials for a job out of pocket, only to have the homeowner get cold feet on a project or find someone else to do the job for less money.

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Talk with your contractor.  Negotiate everything upfront BEFORE anything is done and be sure to get what is agreed upon in writing.  Don't be afraid to ask to see invoices for raw materials if part of the deal is for you the homeowner to furnish materials.  Agree on when the remainder of the monies will be forthcoming.  If you make changes as the project goes along don't act surprised if the project takes longer than originally estimated.  Negotiate the deal for the entire project and not for hourly wages.   If it takes them longer to complete the project and they come to you asking for more money with a sob story that his crew needs to get paid...  that is there problem and not yours... unless the changes you make are the cause for more time required.  Know what you want to do before the project begins.

Document everything.  The days they work.  How long they work and how many are working.  Keep these records to yourself but make sure they become a part of everything you have regarding the project.

Do not be afraid to tell your contractor to take a hike if the project gets out of hand and things are not handled as was originally agreed upon... but be sure you have your ducks all in a row.  It is not necessary for you to assume an adversarial posture.  Do not treat the workers as second class citizens because you always get more flies with sugar than with vinegar.  Workers who like you will always do a better job than those who don't like you... but don't let them walk over you either.  Respect is a two-way not a one-way street!

And ALWAYS get the necessary permits no matter how much you may believe it will save you.  Getting permits means that whatever project you have done will be completed correctly because it will be checked by a city inspector.  The service provider will know it has to be done right and will be motivated to do it correctly the first time.  If it is not done right the city inspector SHOULD let you know. 


If the city inspectors gets it wrong you will at least be able to get some compensation from them for not doing their job correctly. Otherwise, you are left depending on and blindly trusting your contractor to do right by you.  Unfortunately, there are just too many stories out there of this not happening.  Also be aware that you, the home owner are ultimately responsible for getting the right permits.  If you fail to do so or fail to check that your contractor has done so, you may be subject to fines and penalties.  The city can even require you to pay to undo whatever work was done, if the proper permits are not obtained.  Even if the job was done correctly .  So trust but verify.  Your verification is to have a third party (the city inspector) check the job out. 

If you only trust but don't verify, the contractor can do whatever half-assed job they want and you will probably never know the difference.   No permits means the job will not be checked for correctness and you have no leg to stand on. As always...