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  • October 23, 2017

Disputes With Contractors and Tradesmen


Disputes With Contractors and Tradesmen

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Owner-builders seem to have a knack for getting themselves in hot water, and I don’t mean from a broken water line. Disputes with contractors and tradesmen seem to happen more than they should.

I think it’s fair to say that most of us dislike bickering and arguing. Imagine you are having a pretty good day on the job site and along comes a disagreement. Now your stomach is churning, you’re blood pressure is up, and you want to growl at the first person who comes near you. Not a good way to spend the rest of your day.

I have found that the majority of disagreements owner-builders experience with subcontractors and tradesmen could have been avoided before any of the work was started. Here are four typical complaints:

1. “I hired him because he did a nice job for the guy down the street, but now I think he is overcharging me.”

2. “I had the electricians change location of 5 outlets and add 2 TV jacks and now I get a bill for it. Shouldn’t this be part of the contract?”

3. “I wanted 5/8” drywall in the house and the contractor is hanging ½”; what’s the deal with that?”)

4. “My plumber’s contract includes a new sewer lateral out to the street. Yesterday he informed me he doesn’t do trenching.”


People like to have fun with their construction projects, whether it’s a kitchen re-do or the addition of a den. This means the owner-builder must have a good working relationship with the subcontractors on the job. If you want things to run smoothly, you must do your due diligence when you are making agreements and contracts prior to the work starting.

Here’s how to avoid disputes with contractors and tradesmen:

• Make sure the scope of work is put into the agreement. This means everything you want done should be stated in the paperwork.

• Check to see that the company is licensed and insured, regardless of whether it worked for someone down the street and therefore they must be OK.

• Have the subcontractor give you unit prices (how much will they charge for an electrical outlet or switch), so if you want to add these during construction you will know the costs up front.

• A common proposal will state that the work is to be done according to the plans and specifications. Be sure your plans specify the work as you want it to be done.

• If materials are to be supplied by the subcontractor, make certain they are specified and priced in the agreement or contract. If the plumber is supplying bathroom fixtures, his contract needs to state the manufacturer, style, model number, and finish for each fixture.

• Look for “exceptions” on proposals. They sometimes appear in smaller print, but it is very important to find out what the bidder is NOT going to do on your project. Some bidders will give you a list of the items they are not including in the proposal and some will simply signify a portion of the work “by others.”



Carefully writing up an agreement of work to be done will save you grief and arguments throughout the project. When negotiating your agreements and contracts with the building team, make an effort to let them know what you are expecting. This will go a long way in eliminating misunderstandings and those dreaded change orders.

For more insights on new construction and remodels, especially for the owner ready to take control and save money, to see this major investment play out successfully, is to have a blueprint for success.

Screw It! I'll Be My Own Contractor by Bill TrimbleMy How To book, “Screw It! I’ll Be My OWN Contractor,” is available on Amazon in print and eBook formats.

For a small investment in this highly readable, comprehensive guide on DIY project management, “Screw It!” answers all your questions, from hiring the right architect to securing permits and more. If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me using the form on the Contact page in this site. YOU can do this!


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