Choosing a general contractor or a plumber, electrician, mason, or HVAC specialist these days requires that you really do your homework and research. The economy has really hurt remodeling contractors across the board. Many companies are striving to retain seasoned workers and meet payroll. We point out ten contractor scams and what you can do to protect yourself.
Ten Common Scams and How to Beat Them
1) You can't verify whether the contractor is licensed to do work in your State nor their name, address, phone number or license number.
If this very basic information is not available and you can't readily verify it, be very wary. Good contractors have a physical place of business and readily display their license. Make sure that they have the appropriate license to do your job. For example, the Commonwealth of Virginia has three classes of license based on skill levels. Don't rely on the County of City to protect you either. It is your responsibility to make sure that your contractor has the right skills and license to do your job. Check to see if your contractor is licensed and your State's requirements.
2) The Contractor or their representative use pressure tactics to get you to sign a contract.
These people are crooks. They seldom want to do the work and their goal is to get your money, especially cash. Some may do the work but it will be sub-standard. Don't sign anything without reading the fine print. An
3) The Contractor or their representative tells you that they are running a special and that the price is only available if you sign today.
Price is important, but you should be looking for quality and timely construction also. If the contractor is slow or worse totally incompetent, you'll end up paying to correct the work. Especially be wary of contractors who seem to play down the need for building inspections or play down the need for a building permit. Some may want you to get the permit in your own name. They do this because they are not qualified to get the permit. In some States you can do this, but when you do, you have effectively transferred the liabiiity to yourself to complete the job according to the building code. In other words, if the contractor does work that does not meet the code, you are on the hook to correct it not him or her.
4) Contractor does not offer or inform you of your right to cancel the contract after a certain period of time.
Most States require this and it should be in writing. You should be able to do this without penalty. While most contractors don't want you to exercise the right, most will make sure this is in a contract and tell you about it.
5) No references are provided or the work doesn't have anything to do with your project
What separates a good contractor from one you want to avoid are their references. Most contractors are eager to show their work and put you in touch with their references. Look for recent references and do call all of them or better yet drive by and look at the work. Ask the former clients if they had problems and how the contractor handled them. This is really important because problems will come up. You are looking for a contractor who effectively deals with them without driving you crazy in the process.
Make sure the contractor's work reflects what you want them to do. For example don't hire a concrete contractor to lay flagstone when their is nothing in their portfolio to reflect that spealty. Or as the cartoon shows don't hire a contractor to build you a pool if they have no prior experience.
6) Licenses and other documents attesting to insurance are out of date or not valid.
Photo copies should be really scrutinized since they can be doctored. Is the name of the contractor and the one on the business card the same? Some contractors use their friends' documents or that of a former employer. This is unacceptable. Go online and look it up or demand to see the license. Most states provide a wallet size copy.
7) You can't verify the license or insurance information.
Use the Ronald Reagan method when you deal with contractors--"Trust but verify." Get on the phone or online and call the State or the insurer. If things are not in order send him or her packing. Don't accept any explanations from your prospective contractor.
8) You are asked to pay in advance for the work.
Some contractors will ask for the total payment up front. Don't do it, not even if it is a small job. Money is the only leverage you have to get your job started on time and and cmpleted in a timely manner. A small deposit by check may be appropriate but never pay in cash. If you do pay to start the job, don't write the check until you see things accomplished. For example, when the lumber and supplies are on site to do a job, then you can write a check but only for that part of the project.
Also remember, the contractor doesn't necessarily have to use "your money" for your job. He may be behind in paying his bills and then plead for more money or threaten to walk. If he threatens you, let him walk.
9) The Company is not listed in the phone book or listed by Better Business Bureau.
I know that this is the age of the Internet, but most contractors are still "bricks and mortar" businesses. Most companies have a website. It may not be extensive, but at least it contains a number where they can be reached.
10) The contractor is the silent type or you are given vague or incorrect answers to your questions.
Communication skills are very important in remodeling. Don't be bashful. Ask questions on how a contractor will deal with certain parts of your project. Remember to stop taliking and allow the contractor to answer. Count to 30 in your head. We know this will seem like an eternity,but if the contractor does not answer you need to look for another. Remember, if your contractor can't deal with you now, how will they ever help you realize your dreams when the job starts.