When planning a home remodeling project, choosing a quality remodeling contractor is often the most important step in ensuring your satisfaction with the results. After all, you want someone who has experience completing projects to specifications, using quality materials, staying on budget, and meeting any deadlines they set.
But how do you know which contractors are reliable enough to hire?
Knowing what red flags to look out for is key when determining who among potential contracting candidates can provide their services dependably and efficiently. Read on how to identify warning signs indicating it's best to continue your search elsewhere.
1. Poor Communication
Communication is essential when hiring a contractor, no matter the size of the project. Your contractor should be in contact with you through every step of the process and keep you well informed. Contractors often have a preference for how they communicate with you, but they shouldn’t force you to use one or the other. For example, when choosing a remodeling contractor, if you prefer to use email, yet they rely on text messages, they should be willing to follow your specifications, at least for the most important communications.
You can often get a good idea of how effective a communicator a contractor is in your initial dealings with him or her. For example, is the general contractor quick to respond to e-mails or calls, and do they respond professionally? If not, then it might be time to look elsewhere.
2. Won’t Show a License or Insurance
Arizona law requires a license for most types of construction work. However, many home remodeling contractors claim to have a license and don’t. That can be bad for homeowners, especially if they get work from someone who hasn’t invested the time or effort to qualify for a license. Failing to get or keep a license may mean that someone doesn’t have the qualifications for the work they’re advertising. It might also mean they had a license, but there were so many complaints about their work that the Registrar of Contractors revoked it.
When considering a potential contractor, ask them to show proof of license. If they can’t, there is a reason. Even if they show one, looking them up at the business bureau or the state licensing board is smart. This way, you can verify that your contractor has an active license and confirm that they’re licensed to do the work you need. As the Arizona Registrar of Contractors' website states, "Anyone can pretend to be a contractor. Check the license."
When following up on the licensing, ask about insurance, such as liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance. Some projects require additional insurance to protect you, your property, and the workers on the job. Most contractors will cover this as part of their estimate, but you’ll want to follow up. If something goes wrong, the last thing you want is to get sued and be held liable for an accident you didn’t cause.
3. An Impossibly Low Estimate
No homeowner wants to spend more than they need to when undergoing a home renovation. However, a general contractor who offers a significantly lower estimate than others is a potential red flag. Their low bid may indicate that they are cutting corners or not including all of the costs involved in your remodeling project (expenses such as dust protection, debris clean-up or employing licensed sub-contractors).
4. Very Little in Writing
When you hire a contractor, documentation is the best way to protect yourself as a homeowner. When you conduct most of your communication over the phone or in person, you lose access to those records that help you ensure you get what you want. Sometimes, you have a misunderstanding with a contractor that would be better clarified in writing. Be wary if they’re unwilling to answer your questions by email or text. Contractors who won’t communicate with you in a way that leaves a paper trail may be trying to cover their tracks.
This is particularly true for the estimate. Never take someone’s “back of the napkin” quote as a final indication of what something costs or the total cost of what they expect you to pay. Get a detailed estimate and review it carefully before you let anyone start work or request permits. Go through each item and make sure that you understand it all. If you see vague terms in the estimates or categories like “labor” that cover the whole project, get clarification.
5. Lack of Past Work
Reputable remodeling contractors should have photos of their work from former clients readily available in a portfolio or gallery of completed remodeling project pictures on their website--not stock images. If you’re unsure whether someone’s work is their own, do a reverse image search to confirm.
Additionally, look at the contractor's online reviews in places like Houzz, Google and Facebook to help gauge their reputation and check references. This will also help you understand better the types of remodeling projects they do.
6. Inability to Obtain a Permit
Any reputable contractor should be happy to go through the process of obtaining any necessary building permits from your local government. If a contractor asks you to get the permits for any reason, this should be considered a red flag. More than likely, this contractor is asking you to do the work because he or she isn't licensed to obtain the permits as a contractor, which is a huge red flag. You may need to sign the paperwork, but that's the extent of your involvement in the permit process.
7. Requesting Total Upfront Payment
Contractors will set up a payment schedule and review it with you before the job even begins. Generally speaking, you can expect to pay a portion of your project cost upfront, but you should never be expected to pay in full before the home renovation project has started. A contractor who wants your business should allow you to put down a deposit and then render the remaining payment throughout the project or upon the project's successful completion. Ensure the contractor has clearly outlined the full payment terms and schedule in their contract or construction agreement so all parties understand when progress payments are due and for how much.
Also, be skeptical of any home remodeling contractor who asks you to pay by cash only. You want to have a record of your payment, and money doesn't allow for this. You'll have a payment record by paying by credit card or check. Additionally, only make checks payable to the company name; a home remodel contractor who asks you to write a check out to him may not be properly set up as a legitimate business.
There's much to remember when searching for the perfect contractor for your home improvement project. Take the stress and hassle out of this task; you deserve to enjoy remodeling your home. Learn more about the Hochuli's, and look at these additional homeowner resources we've included to help you choose a quality remodeling contractor for your project that you can trust.