Across the country each year, many people become victims of tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, or wildfires. These natural disasters directly impact the U.S. economy for billions of dollars annually. One of the untold costs associated with these disasters are those losses due to fraud. Often, “fly-by-night” contractors appear and further traumatize the disaster victims by swindling them out of their precious, and often limited, resources.
There are thousands of legitimate, ethical contractors in business around the country. Whether you are recovering from a natural disaster or are looking for a remodeling contractor for non-emergency home improvement, be sure to find a company that is experienced, reputable, and will be around for years to come. Here are some warning signs to look out for:
- Does not have license and insurance. All professional contractors should be insured and able to show their certificate proving such insurance. Although all states do not require licensing, contractors in states requiring licenses should have it and be able to provide a copy.
- Asks you to sign anything before you have hired them. If they want you to sign an “estimate” or “authorization” before you have made the decision to hire the contractor, look out. They may be trying to get you to sign what is an actual binding contract.
- Does not write contracts. Professional remodelers have clear contracts that outline the job, the process, the cost, and clarifies how problems will be managed. If you do not have a contract, you are not protected when something goes wrong. Do not hire anyone who tells you a contract “won’t be necessary.”
- Requires cash or payment in full before starting the job. Shady contractors demand cash and then run with the money. Many homeowners have been stranded by paying in full up front. A deposit towards materials is common, but only pay it once you have a contract signed by both you and the contractor. It is also suspect if you are asked to pay cash to a salesperson instead of a check or money order to a company.
- Vastly underbids all other contractors. They may have the best price, but that does not guarantee the best work. Such contractors may cut costs on quality, which can end up costing you more when you have to have the substandard work redone.
- Offers “special” pricing. If you are told you have been “chosen” as a demonstration project at a special, low price, or you are told a low price is good only if you sign a contract today chances are that a scam is being attempted.
- Cannot provide customer references. Professional contractors should have current references they can provide from current and past clients — and you should be able to reach those references, not just an answering machine.
- Difficulty contacting the contractor. Professionals have a physical office, mailing address, phone, and email. They should respond to your queries in a timely manner. Make sure you can verify the contractor’s business address. If they only have a Post Office box, be wary.
- Tells you to obtain the building or remodeling permits. Professional contractors go to the county or state offices and get permits for their work themselves. Asking the homeowner to do it is a sign that they are not a legitimate contractor.
Your best bet is to take your time, do your research and choose someone you feel completely comfortable with. If your state requires contractors to be licensed, look them up on the state licensing website even if you have seen a piece of paper that looks like a license. Make sure they do not have a record of consumer complaints lodged with your local Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org).
The WABA Remodelers Council is comprised of reputable businesses in all areas of home remodeling. Council members are committed to maintaining the highest industry standards of professionalism, quality workmanship, and ethical business practices.