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Real estate Q&A: Contractor has skipped with my money without finishing job

Q: In the middle of a major renovation, my contractor disappeared, leaving the work half done. I already paid her for most of the work. What should I do? – Shuyong

A: When dealing with any renovation, you want to make sure that your contract is as specific as possible and includes deadlines and time frames. Your payments mustn't get too far ahead of the work. Make sure that the payment schedule is tied to performance.

Before signing the contract, you need to do your homework on the contractor. Check the state's licensing website to make sure she is licensed, and the court's website for lawsuits. Finally, thoroughly search the web for complaints.

Now that your contractor is not returning calls or working, you will need to document the issue. Write down everything you remember and take lots of photographs. Send a certified letter demanding the work completed or money refunded. If there is no response, complain to the appropriate agencies.

If you received a notice in the mail from any of the material suppliers, call them to make sure they were paid. You will still owe them the money for the supplies even if you already paid the original contractor for the same thing. The same goes for any subcontractors that may have worked on the job. This is why you always make sure that the subcontractors and suppliers are paid before making a progress payment to your contractor.

Once you are sure that your contractor is gone for good, you will need to find someone to finish the job. If your former contractor has not skipped town, you may be able to take her to court to get reimbursed for the expenses and trouble she caused you.

This is where you will be glad you wrote everything down and took all of those photographs since you will be able to explain the problem to the judge easily.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation. Send him questions online at www.sunsentinel.com/askpro or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.

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