The BBB often issues tips on hiring contractors this time of year, but this year it’s especially timely. Soon after a BBB risk-assessment study identified home improvement scams as the riskiest scam to encounter, the Kansas City area was pounded by a damaging storm. Tornadoes touched down, high winds snapped tree trunks like twigs and peeled siding off homes. It has left hundreds of homeowners scrambling to hire contractors.
If a contractor you don’t know knocks on the door, be sure to check out their reputation with the Better Business Bureau. The contractor may be from out of town and that could cause problems if you need them to come back and fix something. They may have moved onto the next town already. It’s usually better to hire a local contractor.
Avoid Contractors Who:
Sell door to door or have extra material from their last job
Ask for payments in cash or want the full payment upfront
Pressure homeowners to sign a contract
Tell the customers to borrow money from their lender
Ask customers to get the building permit
Get Multiple Estimates - Even if your home is seriously damaged, don’t rush this decision too much. Check around. Get at least 3 estimates if you don’t already have a go-to contractor. This not only gives you the opportunity to check prices, but also see how each contractor behaves and conducts business. Check out their reputations and see if they have complaints with the BBB.
Check References - Ask if they have customers who would vouch for their work. Ask previous customers if the job was completed to their specifications and if the job was completed on schedule. Was the estimate close to the final price? Would they recommend the contractor to potential customers? Would they use them in the future?
Never pay the full amount upfront - In Kansas City, many contractors ask for down payments on jobs, but you should never pay more than half the total amount. Do not pay more until the project is finished and meets industry standards. Always pay the down payment with check or credit card. If the contractor skips town with your payment, you can dispute the charge with your bank or credit card company. Never pay with cash or money order. Once they’re out of your hands, they’re gone forever.
Get everything in writing - Make sure the agreement clearly indicates the project details. You will need to know how much work is being done and how much you’re responsible for paying. The contract should include a project completion estimated date. The BBB has handled many complaints in which contractors have stretched out contracts for weeks, months and even years while trying to keep homeowners locked into contracts. The agreement and supplemental literature should include all information about workmanship and manufacturer warranties. Never sign a blank contract or any contract without reading it thoroughly. Keep a copy of the contract in case there is an issue.