Despite what many believe, spotting a shady contractor is easier said than done. Most people expect a caricature of the used car salesman or the sketchy alley merchant who looks and acts shifty right from the start. The reality is that shady remodeling contractors look nothing like what we picture them to be. In fact, they probably look the exact opposite: bright, open, friendly, and generally eager to help you out.
Finding out you’re being scammed in the middle of a remodeling project—or worse; after—can be one of the worst feelings in the world.
Save yourself from the trouble and use these five simple, straightforward steps to spotting shady remodeling contractors.
1. License & Registration, Please
One of the biggest ways to catch a shady contractor is to ask for their papers.
Laws regarding license and registration for remodeling contractors do vary from state to state. However, one common point they all share is that a professional—who accepts payment in return for services rendered, must hold a state license or must be registered with a state-recognized department.
These papers are meant to protect both parties from any legal issues or complications that may arise. Any honest, self-respecting contractor will put in the effort to obtain it.
If the remodeler you’re thinking of hiring hesitates to show you their papers or comes up with some wild excuse as to why they don’t have their license and registration, that’s an obvious sign.
2. Communication: Choppy Reception or Crystal Clear?
The best home improvement contractors are the ones who believe in establishing constant, seamless communication right from the get-go. They do this to save time, minimize misunderstandings and keep their clients in-the-know.
Most (if not all) successful remodeling projects are the product of a healthy relationship between the contractor and client. This example of a healthy relationship is typically the product of excellent communication.
If the contractor is hesitant about establishing clear communication lines, that’s a huge red flag to take note of. If they don’t suggest daily or even weekly check-ins, start re-evaluating their status as potential partners. Meanwhile, if they can’t answer simple questions regarding timeline, price, remodeling plan, or budget, it might be best to move on to your next candidate.
Related Content: 3 Clear Signs Your Home Remodeling Contractor Is Not for You
The best remodeling contractors believe in full transparency. They know they can’t turn your vision into something tangible without it. When in doubt, steer clear of contractors that are evasive and vague—they most probably have something to hide.
3. Do You Have a Portfolio?
We are all for giving beginners a fair chance. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and the prospect of being someone’s “big break” is truly riveting. In fact, there have been instances where taking a chance on the inexperienced but truly passionate yielded excellent results. After all, home improvement contractors that are new to the field have unspeakable energy, fresh ideas, and untapped potential—all of which could be extremely beneficial to you.
However, inexperienced is miles apart from no experience whatsoever.
Even if they’re just starting as independent contractors, they should be potential candidates with some type of work history to show at the very least. Did they work as an employee for a different contracting business? Were they apprenticed for at least a year? Did they participate in any renovation project in the past year or so, and can they tell you more about it?
Even contractors with limited work history should be able to provide references or contacts for review. If they can’t or don’t want to, take that as the signal to choose someone else.
4. Please Sign on the Dotted Line
Although a lot of people don’t really like dealing with contracts, they’re a necessary piece of any project. Reputable remodeling contractors know the importance of a detailed agreement signed by all parties involved. It’s insurance for everything and everyone.
For major renovation projects, every single detail—from the building permit number to the third-party supplier—must be listed in a contract or legal document. This is created to aid legal disputes, eliminate potential legality issues, and legally bind the client and the contractor in an agreement to exchange financial compensation for rendered professional services.
With that being said, contractors that offer vague, single-page “official” contracts for you to sign must be given a wide berth, more so if the contract has no complete details at all. If it doesn’t have a timeline/end date listed, what’s your assurance that the contractor will finish the project within the promised two months? If it doesn’t have the name of the supplier listed, what’s your assurance that you really are paying for high-quality, top-of-the-line materials?
5. The Bid: If It Seems too Good to be True…
… it probably is.
People typically steer clear of high bids in an attempt to save some cash, but low bids are just as suspicious. It isn’t unusual for contractors to offer bids way below the average cost with the explanation that the remodel will be used for “advertising” purposes. Other bogus explanations include supposed partnerships with suppliers and unseasonal promotions.
Is your contractor offering a low price without any viable and believable explanation? Plus, no proof to back it up too? Assume that they’re either going to cut as many corners as possible or they’re going to cut and run. In either case, beat them to the punch and say no, thanks.
Generally speaking, the best remodeling contractors are the ones who go out of their way to accommodate you. This includes doing whatever they can to put your mind at ease. Remodeling contractors who go the extra mile to assure you of their validity and provide all the resources you need for background checking are usually the ones who have nothing to hide.