How To Avoid a Bad Contractor

Tips on how to avoid hiring a bad contractor.

Most people have heard stories of a home improvement job gone horribly awry: a contractor gets paid up front for all or part of the job and then bails. Or, the contractor you hire buys cheap materials and pockets the extra money. Or, the job drags on for months, the guy doesn't show up when he says he will, his crew is drunk, etc. When you're putting the value of your home in someone else's hands, you want to be sure you hire a trustworthy, reputable contractor. Here's how to avoid a bad contractor.

When to Run

You can't verify credentials. Avoid a contractor if you can't verify the name, address, telephone number or credentials online. If he or she is not listed on Google, Kudzu, the Better Business Bureau, or with a local trade association, such as NARI, or he doesn't have a legitmate looking website, stay away. This could mean the person doesn't want to be found by others he or she has ripped off.

You are unable to verify the license or insurance information.

The salesperson tries to pressure you into signing a contract. If you feel sales pressure, it may be because they're trying to get you to sign before you read the fine print or check their reputation online.  Don't work with the person if he or she tells you a special price is available only if you sign the contract "today."

The person is soliciting door-do-door. Don't hire a drifter. 

The company or salesperson says your home will be used for advertising purposes so you will be given a "special, low rate." If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. 

They don't have reviews or references. A legitimate business company will have references and reviews. Finished work is a powerful selling-tool for people who do great work. Find a contractor with five star ratings and plenty of great reviews. 

You are asked to pay for the entire job in advance, or to pay in cash. This usually means they're trying to avoid paying taxes. 

You get a quote before the person sees the job. Contractors have fixed material expenses. If he doesn't know or care what they are, it means he is likely not planning on paying for them. 

You can't cancel. If the contractor does not offer, inform or extend notice of your right to cancel the contract within three days, beware. Notification in writing of your Right of Recision is required by law. This grace period allows you to change your mind and declare the contract null and void without penalty (if the agreement was solicited at some place other than the contractor's place of business or appropriate trade premises-in your home, for instance). 

In addition, be cautious when:

  • You are given vague or reluctant answers.
  • The contractor exhibits poor communication skills or descriptive powers.
  • The contractor is not accessible.
  • Your questions are not answered to your satisfaction.
  • The contractor is impatient and does not listen.
  • Only the work is addressed, instead of your needs as the homeowner.
  • The contractor can't show you prior work.

Source: National Association for the Remodeling Industry (NARI)

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