In the last post about hiring a contractor, in order to increase your odds of getting a quality contractor, we outlined 7 questions to ask when looking for a contractor. Today I would like to discuss some things that should be viewed as “red flags” in that process of choosing a contractor.

1.) Contractors that show up at your door uninvited. While not an automatic disqualifier, a contractor that is going door to door to drum up business should be viewed with extra scrutiny. When a contractor shows up at your doorstep, be sure and ask the 7 questions outlined in the last post. Listen carefully to their pitch also. For example, I had a paving contractor show up at my house once offering to re-pave my driveway. In the process of his pitch, he told me that he was doing work in the neighborhood on some of my neighbor’s driveways and since he was so close with men and equipment, he could at a discount work my driveway into his schedule. The price he quoted was very reasonable. A little too reasonable. So, I asked him politely where exactly he was working. That seemed to fluster him a bit at which point he gave me a street name that doesn’t match any streets near me. So, I asked him where exactly is that street and then he said Mechanicsville. Well…. Mechanicsville is 30 miles from my house (not exactly in my neighborhood). His whole sales pitch was based on giving me a discount because he was working “nearby”, which wasn’t true.

2.) Contractors that ask for full payment up front. Another red flag is contractors that ask for the full contract price before work starts. Any established business owner has enough credit and working capital to work most jobs without needing full price up front. If they say they need this to pay for materials and their labor before they start the job … that is a red flag and you should be wary. If you don’t know the contractor personally, don’t take the risk of losing that money. Be patient and keep looking for the right contractor. They are out there.

3.) Contractors that ask for the remaining balance with the job half finished. Some contractors will ask for half of the contract price up front. There is nothing unusual about this as a rule. I do this myself on larger jobs that I know will take several weeks. I do this so that I can pay my crew and suppliers at the end of the month, even if the job is not finished. But when the job is half done and the contractor asks for the balance of the contract….that is a red flag. Unless you know this person well, don’t give them the money. I have heard many horror stories over the years of unscrupulous contractors taking final payment with the job half-finished and never returning. I have personally helped finish jobs for people who had their contractor walk off a job after taking final payment and never returning. Ask for a contract, read carefully the terms of payment. A reputable contractor will write it in his contract that you do not have to pay him the final 50% until after final inspection has passed.

4.) Contractors that are not punctual. If a contractor tells you he will meet you at 10 am and doesn’t show up until 11 or even bother to call and explain why he was late….that is a red flag. Good working relationships are based on mutual respect. If a contractor doesn’t respect your time, why would you expect him to respect your property or money? Keep looking.

5.) Contractors whose price is much lower than the competitors: I worked up an estimate a few years back for a man who had an above ground pool deck built. He found a guy that said he would do it at a very economical price and the home owner liking the very low price had the man build the deck. The builder was not licensed and didn’t get a building permit. He also didn’t build the deck to county code. When I met the homeowner, he was re-working the deck himself (it was a big deck too) to bring it up to code. He was having to dig up posts one by one and pouring footers under them. A really cheap price is a red flag. Be cautious when someone offers a really low price to do a project. They probably don’t know what they are doing, or are cutting corners.

One final tip when choosing a contractor. Be patient. Good contractors stay busy all the time. You may have to wait to get on the schedule of the good one….but in the end you will be glad you did.  Any experiences to share? Put them in the comments below! We’d like to hear about it!

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