Contractor-and-Homeowner-Talking-460x300It’s summer in the Twin Tiers, and that means it’s time for some outdoor fun on our beautiful lakes or in our pools. It’s also the season of thunderstorms, road construction and contractors signs dotting the lawns seemingly on every block.

ToolsEveryone I know has at least one good and one bad contractor story. Usually a good story involves a contractor recommended by a friend or neighbor, and a bad story involves someone hired quickly or without a recommendation.

In a recent Law Talk on WETM-TV News at Noon (every Wednesday at 12:20 p.m.), I provided some advice to those hiring a contractor to work around their home this summer and fall.

Here is the latest installment of our Q & A series, focusing on legal information that can be helpful to residents of the Twin Tiers and beyond.

QUESTION: What are the most important points to remember when people search for a contractor for a home improvement project?

ANSWER: The best advice is do your homework and be very careful about the contractors you hire. If you don’t know the contractor coming to your door or soliciting your business, check them out. Family and friends are always good sources for referrals. Look for contractors with a local connection who have been around for a while. But if it is just someone who pulls up in front of the house with out-of-state plates, then be very careful and be sure you don’t hire the wrong people.

Q&A 1If you are going to hire a contractor, one of the things that is really important is document everything. Keep good records of what they say they will do, when they worked, how much money you have provided them and so on. If they say they are doing a certain scope of work, get it in writing. Be very detailed about what you expect. If it is a roof job, does it include the gutters and hauling away the old roofing material? Make sure you have as much as you can in writing.

Make sure the price is listed, and this is the most important advice I give to everyone: do NOT give the contractor all the money up front! You have to hold back some money. Some companies will require 25 percent or 50 percent up front, but under no circumstances would I hire a contractor who insists that I need more than 50 percent up front.

And do NOT make the final payment until the work is fully completed to your satisfaction. Your money is your leverage against the contractor and that leverage is more important than any legal claim or lawsuit you might have.

Finally, if you have a problem, you can consider taking the contractor to small claims court or to a higher court, if the amount in controversy is more.

The best advice is be very careful BEFORE entering into a relationship with a contractor. Hire people with a good reputation and who have worked in your area or have local connections. Make sure everything is documented. Take photos and videos before, as they make progress and of the finished work.

  • Read more tips about hiring a contractor here and here and here and here and here.
  • Remember to watch Law Talk every Wednesday at 12:20 p.m. on WETM-TV News at Noon.
  • To submit a legal question for a future Q & A blog post, send your question to

Thanks for reading,



James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
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