Questions and Answers for September 2016

Adapted from our Message Boards, where members can ask questions and get answers. Practicing landlords and service providers answer questions, and we combine the best answers into one here.


Q: I want to have my foundation fixed, and a bathroom redone, and some other things. Can you recommend a contractor?

That’s a variety of projects! Foundation repair might require a mason. A bathroom renovation might require plumbers, electricians and carpenters. The roof, gutters, windows, and lead paint might all require different people, too.

General contractors that could handle all your jobs will want to bid on larger projects to make it worth their time. Be prepared to pay well over a thousand dollars, maybe over ten thousand dollars, if looking for one general contractor to handle all these jobs.

If on the other hand you can break up the list with clear goals for each job, you may be able to get better prices hiring direct specialists one at a time.

Depending on the work, a handy person might be able to do all of it. Good handy people are hard to find. You could try asking another landlord you know if their person needs more work.

Be careful with recommendations, though. A contractor or handyperson that one owner likes or dislikes might give different service to you. Every landlord-contractor relationship has different chemistry and expectations. became free this spring. The contractors there are used to working with smaller operations and private households. This might be a good source of leads for you.
Make sure to check HIC registration and insurance! Also, all jobs estimated at over $1,000 must have a written contract under Mass law.

If you want more advice on hiring, the top four results for “contractor” at give some more detail. Good luck!

Q: I have a serious disagreement with a neighbor (or, my homeowners’ association, or business partner, or another non-tenant). We have talked and fought and are no closer to agreement than when we started. What can I try before I sue him?

In a lawsuit, everyone loses except the attorneys. The only advantage of jumping straight to a lawsuit is if you’re sure the law has been violated and you know you can get quick redress.

The first thing to try before suing is what Roger Fisher and William Ury recommend in their book, “Getting to Yes”. There are many good negotiation techniques in there, and it’s not the hard-ass school of negotiation. Their techniques work without damaging relationships.

Sometimes people just don’t gel. Reason and logic fly out the window. The next thing to try is to ask a third party mediator to negotiate the dispute without the two personalities interacting in any way. There may be a mutual friend or a neighbor willing to hear both sides of the issue. If they have also read “Getting to Yes,” that will probably work!

If there is no willing volunteer, you can hire a professional mediator. The Real Estate Bar Association of Massachusetts (REBA) has a Dispute Resolution division (REBA/DR). On the REBA/DR board is a very intelligent and reasonable attorney and member, Emil Ward, among others.

Emil and the rest of REBA/DR have successfully resolved countless disputes. We highly recommend anyone with a conflict talk to Emil via REBA/DR: 617.854.7559.
Failing that, you can seek binding arbitration with the American Arbitration Association ( These are not real estate specialists, but they are the backstop before court.
We hope that helps! Conflict is no fun. For more education, you can keep an eye on the events calendar at for a conflict resolution session, watch the workshop recorded in January 2015.

Or read about REBA/DR in the article from our July newsletter.




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