From total scam artists who will take your money and skip town without doing work to contractors who just do shoddy work, there are all kinds of bad things that can happen when you don’t carefully vet the contractors you hire for home improvement work. The Better Businesses Bureau (BBB) offers the following tips to homeowners so they can avoid these kinds of scams.
Obtain a written contract and read it carefully
A written contract is your greatest protection from a home improvement scam. This contract should be thorough and should include a detailed explanation of all the work to be done, the materials that will be used for the project, an estimated timeline of the project including an estimated completion date, as well as an agreed upon price and method of payment. Make sure to read over the contract before signing and clarify anything you don’t understand. Also make sure to obtain a copy of the contract.
Get several investments before making a decision
It’s a mistake to simply go with the first contractor who can give you an estimate. Getting at least three or four estimates allows you to compare them to each other and make a more informed decision. If an estimate is considerably higher for no discernible reason, it’s probably a contractor you don’t want to work with. Don’t just go with the least expensive estimate by default either. Contractors who give suspiciously low bids are often trying to get the contract and then drive up the price during the course of the project. A low bid may also be a sign that the contractor will cut corners or use inferior materials.
Watch for red flags
There are a number of things that should give homeowners cause for alarm. High pressure sales tactics such as special prices that can only be claimed if the homeowner agrees to work on the spot are a major red flag. Contractors that demand large up-front payments (more than ten or fifteen percent of the total cost) or demand that payments be in cash only are also red flags. If possible, pay with a credit card so you have recourse to cancel a payment if the work is not completed.
Do your research
Ask around for recommendations for a good contractor. Find out if a prospective contractor has a brick and mortar location. Look for a company logo on uniforms or vehicles (it’s not definitive proof but it’s usually a good sign that a business is legitimate). Also ask to see a license and proof of insurance. These are things that any reputable contractor should have. Find out how long the contractor has been in the business and check out their company’s rating with the Better Business Bureau to see their track record in dealing with customers.
No matter what precautions you take, there’s always a chance that a contractor could leave you disappointed in their work (or lack thereof). If you’re pretty handy and willing to learn new things, you may want to try your hand at DIY home improvement. There are some simple projects you can get started with that require no expertise or special tools like installing snap-on baseboard heater covers or swapping out cabinet hardware.
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