Whether you are planning a small repair project, like repaving your driveway, or a more extensive project, like adding an addition to your home, it pays to look beyond the lowest bid when selecting a contractor. You should review the BBB report and other objective resources, as well as check out references as part of your evaluation process. Finding a good contractor at a fair price is worth spending a little time.
Right from the start, you can eliminate what are likely to be less than reputable contractors by considering a list of traits often common to rip-off artists. Both the Federal Trade Commission and BBB have found the following to be indications that a contractor may not be interested in satisfying customers:
- Solicits door-to-door: While some quality contractors may solicit door-to-door, other contractors use this approach to pressure consumers into rash decisions. Never hire a contractor without doing your research to identify a fair price and a quality contractor.
- Offers discounts for finding other customers: Good contractors rely on referrals from satisfied customers or word-of-mouth advertising for a large percentage of their customer base. They do not need to offer discounts in order to drum up prospective customers. Their good work does the talking!
- Has materials left over from a previous job: Some contractors will attempt to use ploys aimed at getting you to make a quick commitment without doing your research. Some examples may include discounts because they are "in the area" or as a result of using "left over" material from a previous job. Agreeing to a "deal" without obtaining competitive bids may cost you more than you should have paid for the work.
- Asks you to get the required building permits: This could be a sign that the contractor is hoping to avoid contact with the local agency that issues such permits. Perhaps he is not licensed or registered, as required by your state or locality. A competent contractor will get all the necessary permits before starting work on your project.
- Does not list a business phone number in the local directory: This can be a red flag indicating that the contractor does not have an established business presence in-state. Or, that he perhaps relies on a home answering machine to "screen" customer calls.
- Pressures you for an immediate decision: A reputable professional will recognize that you need time to consider many factors when deciding which contractor to hire. You will want to check references, look into the contractor's standard of work and his professional designations or affiliations, verify his insurance, check to see if he needs a license (and if so, that it is valid), get written estimates from several firms based on identical project specifications and finally, contact the BBB and other local consumer protection agencies to see if they have information.
- Asks you to pay for the entire job up-front or demands only cash: Whatever the reason, never pay for the entire project upfront. Payments should be by credit card of check so that your credit card statement or cancelled check can provide proof of payment, if needed. Do not pay anything until after the first day of work, and then pay up to one-third. Make additional payments during the project contingent upon completion of a defined amount of work. Do not make the final payment or sign an affidavit of final release until you are satisfied with the work and have proof that the subcontractors and suppliers have been paid.
- Suggests you borrow from a particular lender: If you are going to finance a home improvement project, it is important to obtain the best rate possible. While a builder may recommend a lender, it is wise to check with your bank, credit union and other sources so you can compare rates, fees and other terms in order to find the most cost effective way to tackle your home improvement projects. Mare sure you fully understand the terms of any loan. The BBB and the Federal Trade Commission regularly receive complaints from consumers who faild to thoroughly review loan documents and terms that greatly increased the cost of a project to the homeowner.