How to Find a Good Contractor (and end up happy with the job)

Here, for emphasis, I will put in negative terms some points of poor practice- things that could really get you into trouble:

Never hire someone who just knocks on your door one day, even if he says he “is working in the area,” or “has some materials left over from a job nearby. ” Door-to-door sales are possibly the most frequent method for scams, and these lines particularly are classic come-ons.

Never hire anyone whose business name and address you cannot verify in public records. An unscrupulous contractor will often operate under numerous names which are never registered, so he cannot be tracked down. A post-office box, rather than a street address, is another warning sign of an itinerant operation.

Never take membership in the Better Business Bureau as your sole assurance of legitimacy. Dishonest contractors will often make a big point of their membership in the BBB, which can be no more than a cheaply-purchased veneer of respectability. The BBB has no teeth to help you if you have a problem with a dishonest contractor, who will get a new business name and re-register with the BBB as soon as things get too sticky under his current name.

Never hire anyone whose references you haven’t checked. Obviously, if he can’t even provide you with references, steer clear.

Never hire a company that tells you your job can get a discount if they can use it as a “demonstration project,” or anything like that. A good, established contractor has no trouble pointing to past jobs which people have been willing to pay full price for.

Never yield to pressure to agree quickly to a deal, for any reason. Not because “the price is only good for today,” not because “this is the last chance you’ll get. ” Haste makes more than waste- in many cases it can make much grief. If a contractor cannot make this price available next week, how much chance is there he will be around the week after if there are problems with the work?

Never hire any one who offers an impossibly long guarantee. This is an indication of insincere intentions, and may even be a ploy to distract you from scrutinizing other things you should be questioning.

Never sign any document unless you have read it thoroughly and understand it completely. Never sign any document which has blank spaces to be filled in later. If the contractor pressures you to sign anyway, brushing aside your concerns or belittling your caution, show him the door. Never hesitate to ask for time to consult a lawyer, a knowledgeable friend or your bank about what you are about to sign. Objections to this are a sure sign of a crook.

Never sign for a home equity loan unless you know you can make the payments. Defaulting on the loan may allow the lender to seize your home- this may be the actual purpose of a scam artist. Always shop a loan around, comparing rates and terms.

Never pay for an entire job up front. Your contractor, and your money, are apt to disappear tomorrow. (There may be some exceptions to this- seasonal contracts like snow clearing or pool maintenance are common ones in our area- but be absolutely sure you have checked references and credentials first.)

Never agree to pay cash under the table. You must have a signed contract, and valid receipts for all payments. Otherwise, if there are ever any problems, you have no proof of who did the work and no proof you paid them for it.

Never hire anyone who insists that you get the required building permits. This is probably a sign he is trying to stay out of sight, possibly because he is operating without a required licence. (Picking up the permits yourself may save you money, but this should be your choice entirely.) By the same token, never hire anyone who says he will do the work without a required building permit. This could get you into a pile of legal and financial problems bigger than your house.

Never contract with anyone you are uncomfortable with for any reason. If he is impatient or bullying, is reluctant to answer questions or does so only vaguely, does not respect your time, your intelligence, your wishes or concerns, find somebody else.

There are lots of excellent contractors out there. Make the effort to find and hire someone competent and responsible. It’s your home, and you will live with the results for a long time.

Targeting Gender and Age

A sad but undeniable fact of the whole home improvement business is that female or elderly clients frequently get treated worse than others. Their ideas are listened to with less respect, their requests are complied with less readily, they are sometimes charged more for the same work and given a lower standard of service. They are also more frequently the target of unscrupulous operators, sometimes even subject to intimidation or harassment. The stories I hear from clients and acquaintances never cease to amaze me, but unfortunately there is nothing I can do about it but to repeat what most women and seniors already know: be especially careful if you are dealing by yourself with a contractor of any type. Never hesitate to confer with another contractor, a professional such as a banker or lawyer, or a knowledgeable friend.

Never be rushed or pressured into a decision of any kind. If your intuition raises flags about someone, pay attention; but by the same token don’t let yourself skip important details because someone seems so completely charming. Always beware of someone who solicits you for work- and never let anyone pressure you by creating fear about your situation or the future.

Your best defense is to choose a contractor who has been recommended to you by someone you trust. But if you have to choose someone else, you can always do it tomorrow. Stop first, think quietly, and consult with someone you can trust before making any decision.

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