It can be tough to find the right professional to handle a renovation. Type “local home improvement contractors” into Google and within seconds you’re given countless options. The problem is that you get the good mixed with the bad, and it can be hard to tell which is which at first glance. To complicate the matter, not many people have experience with home remodeling, so they don’t always know what to expect.
This is why it is important to know the red flags when choosing a contractor for your next project. Spotting warning signs of a disreputable or deceptive company means you can put the brakes on the negotiations before you get taken for a ride. As you do more exploration, watch for these warning signs and make sure you don’t make a bad decision.
Outdated or Missing References
Word of mouth is a powerful influencer, and contractors know this. That is why most experts are willing to provide the names of past clients. Checking with previous customers is one of the best ways to learn about the quality of work and level of professionalism you can expect to receive. However, if a builder is hesitant to give out references or examples of recent work, be suspicious.
Negative Online Reviews
There are multiple places to find online reviews of a contractor’s work, including Yelp and Facebook. Yes, most builders are likely to have at least a few unhappy clients, but look at the bigger picture. If one company has a large number of negative posts, that probably isn’t a coincidence. Pay attention to customers that share many of the same complaints, as this indicates a pattern of performance that might impact your experience.
Promising Too Much
It’s always a good idea to research a renovation project and establish a base expectation for the cost and pace of the work. Once you have a general idea of how much time and money it will require, you’ll be able to spot a construction company that is overpromising. If a bid seems excessively low or includes a schedule that appears too quick, do not be fooled. These could be signs that the contractor will cut corners or hit you with unexpected fees. Accept the lowest bid if you are comfortable with it but watch for offers that seem too good to be true.
Not Having Proper Documentation
Any builder worth his or her salt will be fully licensed and insured and will have the paperwork to prove it. If you ask a contractor for this documentation and only receive excuses, that’s a bad sign. It could mean that you’re being scammed. Lack of insurance might also put you on the hook for any injuries or damages that occur on your property. Either way, steer clear of this situation.
Insisting on Cash-Only Payment
A reputable company should be able to accept payment in cash, check, money order or credit card. However, if the one you choose insists on being paid only with cash, be wary. It could be a sign that the builder is trying to keep your project off the books, or that he or she is planning to take the money and run. Do not take a contractor’s word that you only have one option when paying for the work.
Requesting Too Much Money Up Front
There is nothing wrong with a company that asks for a down payment before starting a job. This is very common and often necessary because workers need to secure building materials or other supplies. If, however, you are asked to put up more than half the total cost before anything is done, don’t do it. The contractor could be preparing to ditch you and move to the next town. Instead, it’s best to determine a verifiable payment plan before you begin the project.
Working Without a Contract
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to protect against a scam artist is get everything in writing. Even if you trust the builder, it could become a problem if he or she works without a contract. A legitimate agreement should include an itemized budget, start date and estimated completion date. Additionally, make sure you have language that clarifies how any unexpected changes will be handled, such as contingent costs or schedule extensions.
The success of any renovation will depend on how well you get along with the contractor. If you have difficulty reaching anyone on the phone when you have questions or concerns, it might be time to find someone else. Be realistic, though — these are busy people with a lot on their plates. Generally, 48 hours is a reasonable period to expect a response.
Do not let your dream home fall prey to someone who only wants a quick buck. Follow the advice above and your odds of success will increase significantly. For more red flags to help you avoid choosing the wrong contractor, see the accompanying infographic.
Author bio: Tim McKenna is an account manager at CraftJack, which connects contractors with homeowners who are looking for assistance with home projects. McKenna works with contractors to find the best lead generation solutions for their businesses and offers helpful advice when needed.