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Be careful when hiring a contractor

« Previous Page04/05/2012


If youíre preparing to have major renovations or repairs on your home, be forewarned. Unless you carefully choose a responsible contractor, you may get stuck with substandard work or no work at all. Check out these contractor horror stories. Theyíll convince you that properly vetting your contractor is the only way to avoid having your money stolen.

Horror Story No. 1

Mary Clinton didnít even realize her roof needed to be repaired. A contractor in a late-model truck knocked on her door. He told her that her roof would probably not survive a severe thunderstorm. He walked Mary around her home and pointed out several areas of the roof that he said couldnít survive heavy winds. His estimate was reasonable. He said he could start the job immediately. Mary fell for his line. She didnít bother to ask another roofing company for an opinion. Her husband passed away six months ago, and her children live in another state. Mary gave the contractor a deposit to start the job. She never saw him again. She finally called a local roofing company that was recommended by a neighbor. That company told her that her roof was worn, but it didnít need to be replaced.

Horror Story No. 2

Bonnie and Tom Olsen didnít recognize the workers who arrived to install their polished granite counter top. This was the third set of employees who had been sent by their boss to do the job. The results were the same. Their counter top was more fragile than usual because it had the holes already cut for the sink and cook top. The workers gently carried the granite top into the home. When they lifted the counter top to put it in place, the granite buckled and broke into two pieces. Bonnie had seen this before. Tom had taken a vacation day to observe the work, but all he saw was another in a series of failures by the contractorís helpers.

Horror Story No. 3

Richard and Iris Patzkowsky fell for one of the oldest scams in the book. In early spring, a truck pulled into their driveway. A well-groomed man came to the door. He told Richard and Iris that his crew had extra asphalt from a nearby job, and they could reseal the Patzkowskyís driveway for a good deal. It turns out that Richard and Iris had intended to have their driveway sealed that year. The man told them that no deposit was necessary. Richard and Iris agreed to let the workers seal their driveway. The crew showed up the next morning. They sprayed the driveway and spread the black goop quickly. An hour later they asked for their pay. The driveway looked like new. It was black and shiny. The only problem was that the workers had coated the existing macadam with a blend of diesel motor oil and paint. It looked great, but it was not a sealant. Richard and Iris had to hire another company to properly reseal their driveway.

Avoid the Scams

There are many more horror stories about scam artists posing as contractors. Licensed and unlicensed contractors frequently offer deals that are too good to be true. They do the job, but their work is so poor that it doesnít last and eventually has to be redone. To avoid getting scammed, please follow these tips:

ē Thereís an old saying that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they maintain their vehicle. Remember this when a contractor shows up at your home: if the truck is filthy or their tools are in disrepair, you should hire someone else. Good contractors have good equipment. Good equipment translates into an easier job and better results. If the contractor doesnít take care of his own tools, heíll probably take equally poor care of your home.

ē Itís great to save money, but donít be foolish. If a contractor offers you a bid that is far below other bids, there has to be a reason. Usually, the reason is that they will do shoddy work or wonít finish the job at all. Sometimes their low bid can show that they donít really understand what is required to do the job. That means that once they begin the work, theyíll ask for more money. Watch how the contractor estimates the job. A quick walk around the house wonít usually give a serious contractor enough data to place a responsible bid. A good contractor knows he doesnít want to make too little on the job or charge too much. Examine the material and labor estimates when you get the bid.

ē Donít accept substandard materials. Insist on new, top-of-the-line lumber, tile and shingles. Donít accept a deal on leftover materials from another job. Leftovers prove that the contractor isnít very good at estimating jobs.

ē Any legitimate contractor has an account with a materials provider. They donít need a deposit to cover materials. If a contractor asks for more than 20 percent to begin a job, find another contractor.

ē Donít pay cash. Use a credit card if possible. Contractors who only accept cash are probably not paying taxes or carrying insurance.

ē Beware of any contractor who doesnít have an office. You should check them out with the Better Business Bureau.

ē Get references. Donít hire any contractor until you call a few references. Ask if you can drive by to see the job the contractor did for others.

These up-front tips should keep you from hiring a bad contractor. If you hire a contractor who raises the price, changes the contract or uses lower-grade materials, youíve probably fallen for a scam. Whatever you do, donít pay the final bill until youíre absolutely satisfied with the results of the job. Write down the contractorís license plate number to be safe.