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The superhero with a hammer

TV's Mike Holmes targets shoddy workmanship -- and offers some advice.

July 13, 2008|Jane Hulse | Special to The Times

With his brawny build, he looks a little like Mr. Clean. Television viewers know him as Mike Holmes, star of "Holmes on Homes," who swoops in wearing his trademark overalls and white undershirt to rescue homeowners who have allegedly been wronged by unscrupulous contractors.

His show, which just moved from Discovery Home to TLC on Saturday nights, tracks how Holmes and his crew expose shoddy construction and "make it right," an ethic that the Canadian native feels strongly about. (The words are tattooed on his arm.) The 43-year-old started learning about the industry from his electrician father when he was 6.

The show, filmed in Canada, is filled with advice on how to avoid remodeling nightmares. In a phone interview, Holmes shared some of his tips.

"If you're going to sign a contract, never give a large down payment," Holmes said. "Most people give as much money as the contractor asks for."

It's one of the biggest complaints he hears from homeowners who have had trouble with contractors. In California, the law is $1,000 or 10%, whichever is less.

Another complaint from homeowners is that their contracts specify payment on a time schedule whether work is completed or not.

He advises payment by milestones when each part of the project is completed.

Though contractors prefer cost-plus contracts (a contractor's costs plus a percentage for overhead and profit), homeowners should instead go with a fixed-price contract for the overall project, Holmes advised. "Homeowners don't want surprises," he said. And include a clause that allows you to fire the contractor if you're not satisfied with the work.

Homeowners jump into contracts too quickly, he added. "Slow down, don't be in such a hurry, and educate yourself." That means learning in detail what the job entails -- permits, demolition, mold removal, building products.

Thoroughly check out the contractor.

"The contractor should come in with a portfolio," Holmes said. Red flags to look for: "If he doesn't dress professionally, and sound and act professional." Once on the job, the contractor should show up every day.

At, he offers additional advice on contract terms: Hold back 10% to 15% of the total cost for up to 30 days after completion to make sure you are completely satisfied with the work.

"Some form of retention for some amount of time is standard, or at least not unusual" in the U.S., said Los Angeles construction attorney Robert S. Mann.

Holmes estimated that his show receives 65,000 e-mails a year from homeowners complaining about bungled construction work. By staying on top of the project and taking the time to learn some industry basics, homeowners can avoid unpleasantness down the road.

"People expect it will be a nightmare," Holmes said. "It's supposed to be a pleasant experience. Why have we accepted that it's going to be ugly?"

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