After Hurricane Matthew we all heard horror stories about contractors scamming homeowners. Now that Hurricane Irma has passed it’s a good time to revisit the lessons learned.
While the majority of contractors are honest professionals, it is still important for homeowners to be aware of possible scammers, frauds, or swindlers when hiring a contractors that appear in the wake of a natural disaster. Before hiring anyone for hurricane repairs or tree removal, know how to avoid the common mistakes.
Beware if a Contractor Requests Money Upfront
Although most contractors will ask for some money upfront it is not normal for a contractor to request a large percentage of the estimated repairs upfront.
According to the Better Business Bureau, contractors who say they need a significant percentage of the project in advance are more likely to disappear with the money or do sub-par work with the impression they can’t be fired since they are already in possession of most of their payment.
Most contractors will only ask for about 10% of the total job or $1000 (whichever is less). This is usually enough for the contractor to deem you a serious customer and work you into their schedule.
Always Have a Detailed Estimate With Terms Before Work Begins
Never just take the word of a contractor. Get everything in a legal contract. Details on itemization and specifications, upgrades, and extra touches should all be included in the estimate; otherwise, the contractor is under no legal obligation to include them in the finished project.
Also, ask what happens if the job goes over the estimate? How much overage are you responsible to pay? Is this a fixed contract or an open-ended estimate?
Ask For Information on Licensing and Insurance
Often after a natural disaster like Hurricane Irma, contractors come in from out of state to help out with hurricane repairs and are relatively unknown to the local area.
Avoid contractors that may not be the best for the job. Ask about licensing and insurance. Make sure they are licensed and insured to perform the type of work they are quoting. You don’t want a jack-of-all-trades experimenting with plumbing on your home. However, it is common for a general contractor to work as a project manager and subcontract some work to trade licensed professionals (such as a plumber).
Watch Out for the Low Bid
Although the low bid may sound really good you have to be careful. Some unscrupulous contractors bid jobs low to get the work and then find excuses to jack up the price later. Such as, they found termite or structural damage after the hurricane repairs began.
If you’re unsure whether your contractor is telling the truth about an “additional find”, you can get an impartial opinion from a home inspector, the local branch of the National Association of Home Builders, or even your local building department.
Make Sure Contractors Get Building Permits for Work Being Performed
You’re legally required to get a building permit for any significant construction project. That allows building officials to visit the site periodically to confirm that the work meets safety codes. Often, out of town contractors are not sure of local building codes and don’t apply for the proper permits. On small interior jobs, an unlicensed contractor may tell you you don’t really need one to avoid the rule. On large jobs, an unfamiliar contractor may ask you to apply for a homeowner’s permit, an option available for DIY projects.
Be cautious here. Taking out your own permit for work being completed on your house means you (not the contractor) are responsible for all of the work. Protect yourself by demanding the contractor get a building permit.
Check out Reviews and Speak to Previous Customers
When considering any contractor, check out their online reviews, chat with homeowners who recently worked with them, and research them and their company as much as possible. Due diligence of research will reveal happy homeowners that sing the praises of the good contractors, whereas unhappy homeowners will help you avoid hiring someone that you will regret hiring later.
If you’re unsure who to hire for a job ask around. You can get some great recommendations via social media or ask your Realtor®. Most of us have a Rolodex with names of recommended contractors we’ve used ourselves.