6 Tips for Dealing With Poor Work From a Contractor Politely and Respectfully

Matt Marandola
Written by Matt Marandola
Updated August 10, 2021
Homeowner talks to contractor
Photo: John Fedele / Getty Images

Use these six tips to help de-escalate a situation if you encounter any tough situations with your contractor

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In any working relationship, there can be bumps in the road, even with your contractor. Maybe there was a miscommunication about your deadline or a rainy day that pushed your estimated project completion date back even further, and now things have gotten a bit tense. 

Don’t fret because you can use these six tips to help you get to a compromise that makes both you and your contractor happy and ensure you continue to work well together.

1. Get Things in Writing

Getting everything in writing is a sure-fire way to make sure everyone is on the same page. If something comes up that you’re unsure about, you can always refer back to the contract. Then, if something isn’t clear, you can speak with the contractor and reference what was in writing.

Similarly, it helps to keep track of things via email. If you have a question or are worried a conversation may be forgotten about, email is a great way to have a written record of what you both said and when you said it. This way, you’re on the same page without them necessarily trying to remember every little detail.

However, written communication can also have its drawbacks. If you’re worried the tone is getting a little too tense or details are getting too complicated to write out, don’t be afraid to give them a call when needed.

2. Be Realistic With Your Expectations

Expecting perfection in a project puts unnecessary stress on everyone that’s involved. By laying the groundwork for what you expect and understanding what’s possible with the scope and budget of the project, you’re posed for smooth sailing. That’s why being clear upfront is so useful, so be sure you leave initial meetings fully understanding where you both stand. 

You should also understand that problems arise throughout the project process. While it’s a dream for everything to go smoothly, things will more than likely go wrong, and the completion date is a goal rather than something set in stone. But the more understanding you are of these problems, the easier it will be on both of you.

That being said, if things get pushed back beyond what you feel is reasonable or beyond what you had initially discussed, it’s okay to have a tough conversation with your contractor and maybe even part ways if you’re feeling dissatisfied with the work that’s been completed so far. Always approach the conversation politely and respectfully, and be specific about what you’re dissatisfied with and why.

3. Make Sure Your Pro Is Bonded and Insured

In the event that damage occurs, insurance and bonds to help keep you and the contractor safe. Construction zones often need a lot of safety equipment to ensure the workplace is as safe as possible, but things can still go wrong.

Say, for instance, while they’re working, a hammer falls, and it cracks the floor. These accidents, luckily, are typically covered by the insurance company. So while yes, it’s a setback, it’s not something that negatively impacts your wallet or your contractor’s if they are properly bonded and insured. This can make any accidents you’re alerted to a lot less stressful.

4. Communicate With Subcontractors

While it’s easy to have the general contractor communicate with everyone on the job, don’t be afraid to communicate with subcontractors as well. Sometimes the game of telephone pops up, and things weren’t worded properly. Speaking with subcontractors about expectations can help fix miscommunications before they’re even a problem.

5. Stick to a Payment Schedule

Setting up a payment schedule in the contract is important for many reasons. For one, it helps to set up expectations with your contractor, and paying on time shows that you’re as committed to the project as they are. For another, it helps protect you because you won’t be releasing the final payment if the work is not finished.

Withholding the total payment until the work is complete can help you avoid hiring a contractor who won’t finish the job since they’ve already been paid. Even if you’ve been waiting for the work to be complete, the reality of the situation may be that the contractors have all done their job, and their suppliers are holding them up. In this case, you can revisit your schedule, pay them for the work that was completed to your satisfaction, and set up a payment process for when the rest of the work is finished.

6. Communicate Calmly and Fairly

Home projects can be stressful, especially when things go wrong. However, any reputable contractor wants you to walk away a happy customer. Help things go smoothly by raising any concerns early on and making sure you’re comfortable with any contracts, payment terms, or other project details. 

Of course, you should always be on your guard and ensure expectations are being met, but speaking to your pro with respect can help make any interaction go more smoothly.

Tips for Finding a Reputable Contractor

Finding a reputable contractor is your first step to a successful home project with minimal friction. Here’s what you should be keeping in mind when trying to find a contractor worthy of putting on your home improvement pro shortlist.

Read Reviews

Reviews help potential customers make decisions based on other customers’ experiences. While everything may sound good coming out of a salesperson’s mouth, actual work may not live up to expectations. Prioritize customers who uploaded pictures of finished work and, if possible, waited several weeks before posting to ensure nothing came up.

Check References

Unless they’re a brand-new general contractor, chances are that they have references to highlight their best work. Call up the references and see if that person actually performed work there and, if so, how it’s still holding up today.

Verify Qualifications and Certificates

A general contractor will need a license from the state or city they’re working in to prove they’re qualified. When scouting out potential contractors, take down their license number and verify it once you go through all these steps.

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