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How To Avoid Shady Contractors

Over the years I have been hired by homeowners who handed over tens of thousands of dollars to contractors who then either did a very poor job or never actually finished the work they were contracted to do. They bring me in to document the work that has or has not been finished and look for anything hazardous.

Having been in that situation many years ago, my heart breaks for these poor people because I know that there is little recourse for a consumer in this situation. Most lawyers won’t even pick up the phone for a case like that, and unless there is fraud involved, law enforcement will view this as a civil matter. But with two of my clients who hired me to do a contractor’s review, they were able to use my findings in my report to compel the contractors to return and finish the job. Unfortunately, these situations rarely resolve themselves in that way, so it’s best to do your due diligence before handing a contractor one dime. Here are some good guidelines for vetting potential contractors.

1) Ask your friends and family for referrals. When looking for contractors, most people will read online reviews but some of those reviewers can’t always be trusted, so I find the best review comes from people you know who have used them. But don’t stop with a positive review, ask the person who referred the contactor some specific questions like A) How much did the job cost? B) Did the price change at all from start to finish? C) Did they finish the job in the time frame they estimated? D) Were there any unforeseen problems? E) Is there anything they could have improved upon?

2) Ask the contractor for additional references. Most good contractors will have hundreds if not thousands of happy customers. Ask for three names and then call them.

3) Ask for proof of license and insurance. Make sure they have professional E&O insurance; in case they make major mistakes on your property.

4) Ask when they can start. I once received good advice from a friend who owned ten different properties. She said to ask contractors when they can start. If it’s anything less than a month, run! The idea is that if they are good at their job they will be in high demand and often have a wait list. If someone can start tomorrow that is more than a coincidence, it is a giant red flag.

5) When you think you have found the contractor you like, Google the shit out of them. First Google “Business name, city, state, reviews” then Google “Contractor’s full name, city, state, reviews” then Google “Contractor’s full name, city, state, arrested..”, then Google “Business name, contractor’s name, city, state, complaints..”

6) Ask for a contract with a scope of work and then read that scope carefully. One of my client’s had a scope of work which read things like, “create outlet holes for electric.” Or “Prime walls and ceilings” which leaves out the part about installing working outlets or fully painting walls and ceilings. There is power in words, especially in court, so you’d be wise to read contracts carefully.

7) Agree on specific terms of the contract like material, labor costs and by what date the job will be finished. Keep in mind that some exterior jobs may take longer due to weather conditions so try to pick your battles because you get more with honey.

8) If your project requires a permit, ask to see a copy of the permit. I can’t tell you how many times a client told me that though the contractor said they would apply for a permit, they never actually did. Permits are great because it forces inspectors from the town or city to come out to make sure the work is being done properly and in a safe manner.

9) When you agree on a price, make sure you are paying in phases and that it’s communicated what work will be completed after each phase. Do not pay in full until the work is completed.

10) With so many of my clients, the work that was left undone was the small things like paint and trim. Don’t give yourself a headache by begging the contractor to return. As long as you haven’t paid them in full, if they are taking their sweet-ass time to get back to you just fire them and hire a new contractor or handyman/woman to finish the rest.