Avoiding Unscrupulous Contractors

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ July 11, 2010

Even the more scrupulous building contractors may be tempted to manipulate the details in hopes of a sweeter deal. That's the word out this week from Josh Garskof of Yahoo Finance. In his column, he quotes the enforcement head of the California Contractors State License Board, who tells consumers to keep transactions with their contractors on the straight and narrow.

The Yahoo article suggests that in the current struggling economy, some contractors try clever "fast and loose" tactics to get you to pay "boom-time" rates.

Considering that many a contractor has been forced to drop prices as much as 40 percent to compete for fewer home improvement jobs, don't give them enough rope to tie you to higher rates. Instead, Garskof writes, you should do all you can to resist contractors assertions that they don't have room to bargain. Moreover, don't fall for any ploy to have you pay money upfront for materials or to avoid getting permits to allow the contractor to work under the table.

Get Competitive Estimates

Remember, you should never have to pay for an estimate. And by getting more estimates and letting contractors know you're looking for the best deal, you can block their temptation to give you a high price. When interviewing contractors, ask for proof of insurance and bonding. Demand that they show you their state licenses and registration. And ask for references.

Before hiring a contractor, consider doing your homework and contact the Better Business Bureau to check for liens, judgments, and bankruptcies.

Be Wary of Scams

This is not to say that most contractors are shady. But it is to say that many homeowners are gullible. Scambusters suggests that you stay on the lookout for contractors who try to scare you by indicating that your home is in great jeopardy unless certain things are fixed immediately. If you're told that, be sure to get several more, independent inspections and bids.

Times may be rough for contractors--and homeowners, too--but you should be wary of door-to-door calls from builders who are hustling jobs. Insist on written estimates and, if you decide to do business, insist on a formal, written contract that stipulates all costs and terms.

Never, says Scambusters, agree to pay in cash for anything and never agree to pay "up-front" for work. Walk away from a contractor who says he has leftover materials from another job to use on your place. That may mean that someone else has been ripped off.

Be prepared!

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