Home Remodelers Survival Guide #3 : What To Watch Out For When Hiring A Remodeler
What to Watch Out For
Every industry has its share of scams and con artists. The remodeling industry is no exception.However, spotting a real scam or con artist in this business is relatively easy provided you pay attention to the clues.
One clue is that we tend to get a “gut” feeling if someone is trying to pull one over on us. But what about when someone does not attempt to intentionally scam us? This is more difficult to detect, especially when someone is truly being honest and sincere. I’m referring to the honest contractors that are either inexperienced, incompetent or both. They may mean well, but their lack of skill or knowledge or inability to be able to complete or manage your project correctly can be just as devastating as the work of a truly unscrupulous contractor.
In other words, it’s not always the bad guys you need to look out for. More often than not, in this business, it’s the honest guy that doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing that you need to look out for most.
There’s a big difference between being willing and being able and there seems to be no shortage of people willing to do your particular job.
Let’s take a look at some of the things you will want to look out for.
“High-Pressure” Sales Tactics
With the remodeling business becoming more and more competitive each year, many contractors resort to high-pressure tactics to get you to sign on the spot. These people generally have their own private agenda. They are not interested in you or the eventual outcome of your project as much as making the sale, and will sometimes promise anything to get you to sign.You should never feel pressured into making a decision about choosing your contractor.
If you ever feel pressured by a contractor or salesman, politely ask them to back off. If they persist, it’s time to look for another contractor. High pressure usually leads to a poor decision when remodeling. A qualified, reputable professional would never pressure anyone into a commitment.
Unusual Payment Terms
Beware of the contractor who asks that you pay for the entire job upfront or asks you to pay in cash. A reputable, professional contractor will generally ask for a reasonable deposit and will propose a reasonable payment schedule.
There are too many horror stories about contractors who disappeared with a homeowner’s money without finishing the project. A professional contractor will present an equitable, mutually acceptable payment plan, usually based on the progress of your project.
If you can’t verify a contractor’s company, name, address, and phone number, it’s a sure bet that trouble lies ahead. Many of these fly-by-night contractors are called “pick-up-truck” builders. These guys don’t have verifiable businesses and are mobile enough to pack up and leave your job without a trace. A verifiable address is a must.
Mobile Phone Is the Only Contact Number
This is just a word of caution. With the popularity of mobile phones today it would be unfair of me to say that all contractors who only offer a mobile phone number are bad contractors. Quite the opposite could be true. However, this might be an indication that the contractor has no “real” place of business or doesn’t want anyone to know where he lives for some reason. You may want to take some extra precautions here to verify that he has no reason to hide and that you can still reach him if he decides not to answer his phone.
Furthermore, it likely signifies that the contractor may manage all aspects of his projects by himself. This may not be a good thing, particularly regarding larger, more complex projects that require intense management. Only you can decide if this is important or not in your particular case.
The “Price Reduction”
This scam occurs when you say no to or show a bit of reluctance to the initial offer and in response, the salesperson offers a lower price for the exact same work.
Substantial reductions in price without changes in the scope of work or specifications likely signifies that the contractor is trying to get a higher price for something that is worthless to begin with and is just trying to “save the sale.”
In my book, this is bad business. Personally, I think this practice suggests dishonesty on the part of the contractor. If you can’t trust him now, you surely can’t trust him later.
If you and the contractor negotiate different materials, methods or circumstances that clearly have an impact on the cost, this would be fine. Otherwise, the “price” should be the “price.”
I can’t tell you how many headaches and how much frustration could have been prevented if only there were a carefully drafted contract with a defined scope of work, clear specifications, and detailed terms.
Insist on a thorough contract or proposal that includes all the details!
By following this rule you will substantially increase your chances of being satisfied. I believe many problems stem from people going ahead with someone they feel “good about” and taking too much for granted. Do not assume it is included unless it is spelled out in writing! In addition to the benefits that come from knowing what to expect, if a contractor takes the time necessary to compile a detailed document, there will be far fewer unforeseen issues and misunderstandings, which will result in less stress for both parties and a project that moves along much more smoothly.
If there is ever a misunderstanding, chances are it can be easily cleared up by referencing this critical document.
Incomplete Specifications or Unclear Terms
Pay particular attention to the “Scope of Work” and “Specifications” section of the contract or
proposal. This is the part of the proposal that defines exactly what work will be completed (the scope of work) and exactly what products or materials and which methods are going to be used (the specifications).
What to Watch Out For
Every project should have clearly written specifications. Not just vague generalities. Again, most contractors fall short on this so when you see a well-defined set of specs, chances are good (but not guaranteed) that you have found a good contractor.
Shoddy or Incomplete Workmanship
By far, this is the most widespread scam of all. It’s as common among the honest guys as much as it is with the actual con artists.
You wouldn’t believe how much shoddy workmanship I’ve seen over the course of my career as a professional remodeler. It has been noted that approximately 40% of home improvement work done today is a direct result of poor workmanship or improper materials installed by a previous contractor.
A few years ago I read about a study that was conducted on some 400 newly built homes from New York to Florida. 94% of those homes were found to have “major flaws.”
To address the potential for “shoddy workmanship”, I recommend following up with references and actually visiting some completed projects until you are 100% satisfied that your contractor will provide the level of workmanship you expect. DO NOT ignore this issue. You really should visit the jobs to see for yourself. Simply do not take someone’s word for it. See it firsthand. Because their idea of quality might be completely different from your idea of quality.
In my company, we recommend (and sometimes require) that prospective clients visit one or more of our past projects so they can see firsthand examples of our work. I would strongly encourage you to visit job sites. You’ll have a much better sense of the quality of work you can expect.
The Contractor Asks That You Get the Required Permits
Some contractors may ask that you get the required building permits. This could be a signal that he is either unlicensed, the work is outside the area in which he is licensed or he is not able to get a permit due to improper or inadequate insurance coverage. The contractor may also not be in “good standing” with the building department.
In any case, a reputable contractor will always obtain a permit on every job requiring one. When a contractor obtains the required building permits, you are more likely to have things done according to the applicable building codes. Also, many homeowner insurance policies require that a permit be issued on any major remodeling project in order to be properly insured.
What to Watch Out For
Not all contractors will do this. Many prefer not to because of the time involved and the
inconveniences of dealing with the building department.
The Schedule or Time Frame Seems Too Good To Be True
If the schedule you’re quoted seems too good to be true, it probably is. Professional contractors make it a point to set realistic expectations. A contractor who knows his business will give you a realistic work schedule/timeline. Don’t be lured by the contractor who promises an overly optimistic completion date. Chances are, he is promising something he can’t deliver.
The Contractor Doesn’t Warranty His Work
Believe it or not, in some states, there is no law that requires a remodeling contractor to warranty his work. However, warranties are essential to any remodeling project. A good contractor will comply with the standards set forth in the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Residential Construction Performance Guidelines, at a minimum.
These are a set of performance guidelines or standards that was compiled by NAHB to help determine whether or not a contractor’s work requires corrective action in cases of dispute. Most professional contractors know about these guidelines and may refer to it in their warranty. They can provide you with a copy.
Remember this: Contractors committed to quality workmanship and client satisfaction warranty their work at least one year and many offer two years or more. In any case, make sure your contractor offers a warranty and that it’s in writing!
The Contractor Appears Unkempt and Disorganized
We all know not to “judge a book by its cover,” but if you fail to recognize this telltale warning sign, expect bad things to happen!A disorganized contractor means a disorganized project.Pay close attention to the details. Look for clues that the contractor “has it together.” You want your project to be organized – that starts and ends with your contractor.