It is “buyer beware” when contracting a home repair or renovation. There are shady contractors who take shortcuts, fail to acquire contractors insurance and permits, use shoddy building practices, or employ a Band-Aid approach to repair work, often leaving homeowners in dangerous situations or out more money in the long run.  In instances where the home has been destroyed by a fire, flood, storm or other catastrophe, your major concern is to get your home and life back in order.  The period after a serious loss is very emotional and hectic making you vulnerable to “CONtractors,” people who specialize in victimization instead of construction and in rip-offs rather than repairs.

Before you start flipping through the Yellow Pages and calling every contractor in the book, let’s get your expectations on the right planet.  Fast and cheap usually adds up to just one thing – poor quality.  You should expect that in this day and age, skilled contractors are in high demand and very busy.  This means when you do start phoning contractors, don’t be surprised that they don’t immediately answer their phones — they are probably standing on a ladder somewhere with their hands full when you call.  It’s also important to understand that good contractors can be booked at least two to four months in advance and bad contractors always seem to be available right away.

No one wants to spend more than he has to on a renovation, but as the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.”  How much is the right amount? That requires some work on your part, because it means getting as many quotes as possible.  The higher quotes sometimes reflect the skill level of the contractor or the price that the market demands. Extremely low quotes often mean that the contractor doesn’t have the experience to accurately quote the job, or it could indicate that he knows how to take shortcuts with your home in order to undercut the legitimate competitors. While you may be in a hurry to restore your loss, it is critically important to avoid persons who appear on your damaged doorstep offering to start construction.

So as you start planning your project, be prepared to wait for the right contractor and understand that there are ways to find the right price for the project.

  • Always pay attention to your gut feeling about any contractor, particularly when they initiate contact
  • Contact more than one contractor to get competitive estimates
  • Make sure that any contractor you talk to provides references and proof that they are covered by contractors insurance
  • Check references and ask for evidence of how long the contractor has been in business
  • If a local chapter is available, call the Better Business Bureau and check for complaints
  • Refuse to pay a lump sum “up front”; In California there is a construction law that limits the amount of a renovation down payment to 10 percent (to a maximum of $1,000.00). This goes a long way in stopping rip-off artists in their tracks
  •  Get a contract that spells out cost of materials, labor, an outline of the project, and other important work details.  If there are changes along the way add detailed “change orders” signed by all parties.
  • Don’t pay in cash, a contract is worthless if there is no proof of payment.  You also have to consider that a contractor who is not paying taxes will also be trying to fly under the radar with all the other government services which means he won’t work with building permits, municipal inspectors and building code safety.
  • Ignore any tactics intended to pressure you into making an immediate financial commitment.