It’s a scenario that a lot of people are familiar with: you’re relaxing at home when there’s a knock on your door. It’s a contractor who informs you that he’s got some materials left over from a nearby job and so he offers to do a similar repair for you at a discount rate. Often the result is a shoddy or completely unnecessary job, or in a worst case scenario—no work is ever completed and you’ve paid someone (possibly hundreds of dollars) to do nothing.
This kind of situation is more common than you think. The lack of a paper trail in the home repair world, as well as the dependence on word-of-mouth, means that scams can happen all too easily in the home repair world.
There are still things you can do to help protect yourself from doing business with a bad repairman or contractor. It’s also important to note that there is a difference between a contractor who scams you and one who simply does a bad job. The difference is that a scammer will run off with your money without doing the work while substandard work is, well, substandard work.
The following rules will help you avoid being scammed and becoming a victim of contractor fraud.
Always have a contract
You may be one of those honest people who always lives by their word and trusts that other people will too—but there are many people who aren’t like that. This is why you need a written contract from any contractor you may deal with. Make sure it’s an official one, rather than something hastily scrawled onto a piece of paper or a napkin. It doesn’t matter how many people you trust who may recommend the contractor—get a proper contract from them and have all the work to be completed in writing.
Do some research
Everyone should do some basic research. Some people ask their friends and family for recommendations and think that’s enough—it isn’t. You should always go deeper and find out more when trying to find a good contractor.
One vital step is to look up the contractor on the Better Business Bureau and see how other people would rate the contractor. The BBB has over five million business reviews, with one million being related to home repair. Check to see if the contractor has a BBB rating, if they are accredited, if they have the proper licenses for the job and, of course, how other people would rate and review them. You should also check your state and local licensing agencies to see if they are licensed to do work in your area.
Get estimates – at least 3
You should always see red flags if a contractor agrees to take on a job before seeing it for themselves, or wants to do everything over the phone. You should always get an in-house estimate and don’t just go with the lowest bidder, it may not be the best deal in the long run. Remember that you get what you pay for. That said, the highest estimate is no guarantee of good work either—just compare the estimates and the reputations of the companies and choose the one you feel most comfortable with.
Never pay in full upfront
A good contractor is never going to ask you to pay for the job before they even start it. You shouldn’t even pay half up front and instead should think in thirds or milestones.
Pay a third of the money upfront, then pay another third when a set amount of work is done or project milestones are completed—then the last third when the renovation is completed and you’re satisfied with the work. It can be a real problem to get a refund if the contractor calls in a subcontractor, so make sure that subcontractors have been paid. If they haven’t then they will often come to you for payment. Ask your contractor for information on any subcontractors, how much they should be paid, when they should be paid and, finally, for proof that they have been paid.
Rely on vetted contractors
Organizations like the Better Business Bureau provide a valuable service—but they aren’t the be-all-end-all for reviewing businesses. One way to help make home remodels and repairs safer from scams is to go with a service that vets their contractors. Instead of strictly relying on word-of-mouth or better business bureau reviews, also check with services like Contractor Connection which reviews contractors in their network and provides guarantees for homeowners.
While there is no sure-fire way to avoid being scammed, if you follow these guidelines you will put yourself in a better position when it comes to hiring contractors and getting home repairs completed.