One of the biggest unknowns in doing a home improvement project is hiring a trustworthy, competent contractor to do the work. Not only to do the work, but to do the work well, on budget and a contractor that won’t cut corners and leave you in a worse spot than you were in before. For every good, trustworthy contractor out there, you’ll be sure to find several who aren’t, and you have to be on your guard when hiring your contractor.

Here are four great tips for not getting taken, and knowing your rights as a homeowner.

Do Your Homework

One of the best ways you can protect yourself against shady contractors is to do your research before you do any hiring at all. Talk to friends and family to find out who they might have used for some of their projects, and how those projects turned out. When bringing in contractors to work on your house, ask for a list of references, and check them thoroughly.
Also, if you live in a state where all contractors must be bonded and licensed, then check their states with your local government to make sure there aren’t any outstanding litigation or complaints against them. Check with the Better Business Bureau, and be sure to ask them how many other projects they have going on at the same time as yours. Sometimes if they’re over booked on work, you’ll find it will be hard to get workers at your house, or they’ll cut corners trying to get finished with the project faster to move to another job.

Ask for a Detailed List of Charges on a Bid/Receipt

One trick to make some extra cash that some contractors will do is to inflate the cost of goods on their bids or hand printed receipts. For example, a contractor may have a line item on his bid for a new toilet for $200, but they may sell at the store for $150. Some of these increases may not seem like a whole lot  in the beginning, but they can really add up and eat into your budget, plus it’s dishonest. So check out what things actually cost at your local hardware store, or ask to see your contractor’s receipts once they’ve purchased everything, especially if they’re using your card or account to purchase the items.

If a Bid Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

We’ve all heard this saying our whole lives, but some people will still fall for it when it comes to accepting bids on a job. If a bid comes in much lower than you anticipated, then be wary. Some contractors will substitute cheaper parts or paint than what you wanted, which may look good and work well for a short time, but then you’ll find the paint chips off quickly or starts peeling, and your other projects may fall apart.
Alternatively, if your bid comes in much higher than anticipated, you should do your research. Find out for sure what things cost, how long it should take to replace, and go from there. You should always do your research and be an informed homeowner. Informed homeowners don’t get taken.

Don’t Pay a Huge Amount Down

Being the homeowner and “boss” of this job, you have the right to write your own contracts for any contractor doing work on your house. You don’t have to follow their rules on doing business if you’re the one writing the checks. If the contractor is unwilling to work with you, within reason, then it’s not work working with them. Just because the contractor wants half of his money upfront doesn’t mean you should pay it.
Some contractors want so much up front to ensure the homeowner can pay for the project, or to cover initial purchases of materials. But if the contractor won’t back down from wanting so much down in the beginning, that could show they are in financial trouble, or another type of litigation problem. Plus, if you pay so much down, and the contractor never comes to do the work, it can be very difficult to get your money returned.  Many states have laws surrounding how much contractors can ask for as a down payment on services, so check into your states requirements.
Don’t make costly mistakes when it come to hiring a contractor to do the work on your house. All you have to do is make sure you understand the scope of the project and do your homework about reasonable costs for getting the job done.

  • Fivecoat-Campbell, Kerri. “10 Things A Contractor May Not Want You to Know.”
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