Hiring a contractor? Do your homework first

Even if you know someone on a personal level, it's still a good idea to check out their professional reputation and references
March 24, 2014 8:30:25 PM PDT
We have a word of caution for those thinking of hiring a contractor. If you know someone on a personal level, it's still a good idea to check out their professional reputation and references. One family says they learned that lesson the hard way, and now their home is left in limbo.

Last year, the family's home caught fire, leaving it to be gutted and rebuilt. So when it came time to choose a contractor, the family went with someone they knew -- a decision they say they're now regretting.

Claire Bonilla says they felt comfortable hiring a contractor they had a personal relationship with.

"We hired a longtime friend, Mr. Nathan Carvajal with Height's Construction," she said.

A contract was signed and a timeline was given.

"The house was promised to be completed within three months," Bonilla said.

The total bid for the job was approximately $45,000 with roughly $40,000 paid to Carvajal already. But after three months, Bonilla says the house was nowhere near completion.

We had several conversations which later came on as more empty promises. And then towards the end, he just stopped communicating to me," Bonilla said.

Bonilla says Carvajal wanted the rest of the money owed for the job.

"He asked the client for the $6,200 payment that was left, that was going to be used to pay the labor," Carjaval's attorney Frank Yererino said.

Yererino says the contractor stopped the job because he wanted to be paid in full. However, Bonilla says she was holding onto that last payment because the job was nowhere near finished. It's something Leah Napoliello with the Better Business Bureau says is a good advice.

"A good rule of thumb is to pay by thirds. You pay a third up front. Maybe a third when it's 50 percent done. And then the rest when it's completely done," Napoliello said.

Carvajal's attorney says after further review, his client did not bill Bonilla properly because the invoice states "framing may be necessary after review from demolition." But they did offer a settlement.

"We are going to offer to either finish out the contract, upon payment of the $6,200, or try to reach another compromise that they're asking for," Yererino said.

That offer was to return the purchased supplies to Bonilla, plus an added dollar amount of funds Carvajal was willing to give back. Bonilla says she put in a counter offer, which has not been responded to yet.

Anytime you hire a contractor, get everything in writing, including a payment schedule. This was something not defined in Bonilla's contract. The BBB also says that even if you know the contractor personally, it's still a good idea to ask for references and check on them.

As for Bonilla, she has now hired a litigation attorney who has already filed a petition alleging breach of contract.

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