Top Five ways to spot a bad Contractor

Most people that I know have had a bad contractor experience. These experiences come in all sorts of flavors, from bad workmanship to unfinished work to “unforeseen” cost over runs, or in the worst case, the contractor skips town with your money and does no work.

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I have been involved with several commercial construction projects in the last few years. Troubles can arise, even with licensed, bonded contractors. Here are some of the things I noticed before the problem started:

  1. Contractor in question’s bid was far below all of the others. This is a sure sign that the contractor is either unfamiliar with the work in question, or has under bid on purpose because he intends to have cost over runs. Another play on this theme is if the contractor offers a great bargain in order to use your project as an example.
  2. Contractor has questionable or no references and or no fixed business address. Always ask for references, if the contractor does good work, he will have many, many examples of this through his references. Any contractor that does not have a fixed business address could be a fly by night operation.
  3. The contractor does not want to go through the formalities of signing a contract. When you are doing any major work, a contract that spells out what the scope of work is, and what the contractor’s responsibilities are. This is standard business practice and any person who does not want to follow that is suspect.
  4. You get a bad feeling. Trust your gut feeling, the guy who seems like a sleazy sales man probably is. High pressure sales tactics such as “This price is only valid until I walk out of that door, you have to sign this right now…” are a very bad sign.
  5. Contractor uses scary scenarios to get you to buy more expensive options or more extensive work than what you initially wanted. If problems are uncovered during a project, they should be obvious. Like a doctor, you can always get a second opinion.

The best way to find a good contractor is to ask your friends, family or neighbors. More often then not, they have used somebody with a good result. Be extremely wary of the guy who pulls up in front of your house out of the blue and tells you that you need a new roof (or something else). Best to tell that person to be on his way. Additionally, many locations require contractors to have licenses. If you live in one of those locations, it is perfectly reasonable to ask for a copy of the contractors license and insurance certificate.

If you feel that you have been ripped off, call the local authorities. Blatant theft, such as a contractor took your money and left town, should be reported to the police. Other situations may need to be handled through civil courts, The Better Business Bureau or other organizations.

Finally, if you have fired a contractor who you provided a key to access your home, change your locks as soon as possible.

This is part of a writing project for Problogger.net

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76 comments to Top Five ways to spot a bad Contractor

  • Beverly

    This post is so funny!!! I had a guy from Valley View Design (Vinyl Tech) in Poughkeepsie, NY come over my house and try to sell me a sunroom. This guy was a joke from the very beginning.

    The reason your post is so funny is because he told me he would take $12,000 off the cost of the job if he could use the job as part of a “Marketing Package.” Basically, to put a few photos of the finished product on their website. Ok, sure…if you want to pay me $12,000 to put a picture on your website, that fine. What a joke.

    Also, this guy pulls out a book of references that look like they were all written by the same person!!! Who did he think I was, an idiot?

    Oh yeah, one more…besides the general sleaziness of this fella, was the way he got so pissed off when I told him I wasn’t interested. He got mad and told me that if I wanted the company to come back in the future for a sales call, they would charge me for it and just send some “Sales Guy” out. He packed up his stuff and stormed out the door, which is fine because I never invited him inside in the first place (with his laptop).

    Their big trick up there is to not tell you that this little presentation is going to take 90 minutes. They spring that on you when they show up. This joker shows up and tells me about the length of the presentation and was “Shocked” when I told him that no one ever told me that.

    Wow!!! You were right on. To top it off, the guy told me the job was going to cost $60,000. For a little sunroom!!!

    As for workmanship – I had a ratty old deck that looked like it was going to fall down. The sales guy suggested that I leave the deck in place and just put plywood over the rotting floor. That did it for me. can you even believe it? I told all my friends about it and everyone laughed so hard and told me about their experiences with sunroom salespeople. What is it with that industry?

  • Bev, I am glad you were able discover what was up before the work started. Many people are not as astute as you are. It sounds like you did the right thing, my only question is how long did it take for you to get rid of the guy? I know somebody how had to threaten to call the police if a certain siding sales man did not leave.

  • Paul,

    Nice article, I now run a major division of a large construction firm and I can tell you that your points are right on track. Any contractor that sounds too good to be true in price or scope isn’t playing with a full deck! I tell my customers all the time to call my references and go check out our work. If a contractor doesn’t have references it’s a sure bet he has no work to be proud of! If you ever need info for your project from the contractor side of things drop me a line.

  • Beverly

    Hi,

    It took me over an hour to get rid of this guy. I told him I wasn’t interested early on, but he tried every angle on me. He started asking me about my credit rating, even after I told him to buzz off. Then he tried to show me a sample of the sunroom. I began to feel uncomfortable.

  • Excellent post. I am an attorney involved in construction litigation and I could not have advised a client any better. If by chance an owner, having noted one of the 5 red signals, decides to proceed nevertheless, owner should do 2 things: (i) photograph the work site prior to commencement of the job and take pictures at interim stages of the project and (ii) entrust all funds to a 3rd party escrowee to whom the contractor must sign-off in order to receive payment.

  • As a new homeowner I have already fallen victim to #1-3…my lawn guy. What else do I need to know about? Excellent idea for a Top5!

  • I used to be a decorator. I never really took any notice of what my competitors were charging as 99% of my work was coming from word of mouth. I still get regular calls now, and I have not been decorating for a year.

    I found a lot of customers were put off by my prices. I always looked at a job and priced according to what I felt it would take to get the job looking as perfect. I never lowered my standards under any circumstances.

    I believed that ever job I did was advertising the quality of my work to others. If someone wanted a slap on job there are plenty of people who will do that for peanuts. If you want a job done properly then you will likely have to pay more.

    It never ceased to amaze me the number of people who would turn their noses up at my prices and get someone else in for a tenth of the price only then to ring me up again a few weeks later to correct the mistakes.

    Exellent list, good luck in the competition.

    Ian

  • Hi Paul,

    This is a great article for all of us homeowners out there. I had a bad feeling about a guy that wanted to paint my house; he was stopping at neighboring houses to the other one he painted. I informed him that I was more interested in siding but he went on to show me what he would do and quoted me a price. I let him know that I would have to think it over and I had other issues that were more pressing.

    He called me that evening and the next day and then came by my house to follow up. When he came by my house and was looking in the kitchen window (!!) to see if I was home, I was done. I went to the door and sternly told him I wasn’t interested.

    I think that was a good sign of a bad feeling being spot on. Glad I didn’t do business with him.

    @stewjean, thanks for the tips, I’ll remember them in addition to what Paul has written.

    Paul, good luck in the Problogger contest; I can’t wait ’til Friday to see who wins! :)

    JoLynn

  • Usefull post. I wish my parents had seen this list two years ago when they were choosing a contractor for their house.

    http://brentevans.blogspot.com/index.html

  • Hi
    Nice top 5

    I owned a residential construction company up until a year ago, and I fully agree with what you say. I think the most important point you made was about using people that have been referred to you by other happy clients. No matter how good the deal or how tight the contract, you are also going to know that this guy has done the right thing in the past for someone that you know. The building industry is full of sharks, make sure you don’t get bitten. Always employ people who have been referred to you.

    Thanks
    Tom

  • I just moved to Sarasota, Florida that was an epicenter of the recent housing boom. It’s amazing all the stories about sub standard contracting that went on when the market was hot. People let greed affect their judgment and now many are paying the price to repair bad jobs.

  • I hate the ones that try to not let you have time to decide. Never decide on a contractor on the first meeting….so you can see there personality more. That is my advise.

    Your article is great full of insight.

  • [...] Top Five ways to spot a bad Contractor by Paul Thurst [...]

  • [...] Top Five ways to spot a bad Contractor by Paul Thurst [...]

  • [...] Top Five ways to spot a bad Contractor by Paul Thurst [...]

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  • [...] Top Five ways to spot a bad Contractor by Paul Thurst [...]

  • [...] Top Five ways to spot a bad Contractor by Paul Thurst [...]

  • [...] Top Five ways to spot a bad Contractor by Paul Thurst [...]

  • [...] Top Five ways to spot a bad Contractor by Paul Thurst [...]

  • Howdy Paul-

    Great post and really useful information!

    Any way you’d allow me to post your list, with proper credit and linkage of course, on my own website someday? It would be very educational to my own clients and community.

  • Teri, feel free to use whatever content you like, that is why I write this blog, so others can learn from my experiences (mistakes?) and possibly share theres with me.

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  • Just had to drop by and actually drop a comment. Some good points here on how to pick a good contractor, and not get caught with your proverbial pants down.

  • [...] Top Five ways to spot a bad Contractor by Paul Thurst [...]

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  • [...] Top Five ways to spot a bad Contractor – good tips to keep in mind if you hire a contractor for your next landscaping job. [...]

  • The good contractors fix their mistakes the bad ones dont/

    gl hoffman, jobdig, minneapolis, mn

    http://blogs.jobdig.com/wwds

    what would dad say

  • GL, I agree. I know several good contractors who back up there work, for them it is a matter of pride in a job well done.

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  • Bob

    Same deal for me from Valley View Design (Vinyl Tech) in Poughkeepsie, NY . I wonder if I had the the same Sunroom sales guy. No warning of 90 min requirement which soured me from the start and ruined my plans for the rest of the day. He was also shocked that I wasn’t told when appt was made by telemarketer!! I was offered the same discount to be in their “Marketing program” (with a deadline date provided of course) How do they expect to win trust if they can’t even set an appt properly? He did turn out to be a nice enough guy, and the product does seem excellent. Even the telemarketer was real nice. Amazes me how the politics of some companies are formed. It ALWAYS comes from the Top down……You would think they want to establish a pristine reputation?

  • [...] Top Five ways to spot a bad Contractor by Paul Thurst [...]

  • Quintin

    Hello there,

    I kindly request your permission to use a modified version of this article as a base for a website article. I would like to use most of the material ,but, just changing it to pertain to the security industry in my town. A lot of what you have written calls true to problems we are experiencing in the above mentioned trade.

    Kind regards,

    Quintin

  • Quintin, no problem using the article, just give the Homeowner’s blog a mention

    Thanks.

  • [...] Top Five ways to spot a bad Contractor by Paul Thurst [...]

  • [...] Top Five ways to spot a bad Contractor by Paul Thurst [...]

  • if you do run across a bad contractor, you can warn other NOT to use them. i had a horrible experience with a contractor myself, so i decided to do something about it. me and a friend created this site called goodpeopleguide.com so people who had bad (or good!) experiences can vent about them, warn others, or brag about the luck they had finding a good contractor. if you had a bad experience, post a review about it so people can see the truth about the contractor you worked with. or if you know of someone good, you can give them the credit they deserve. or…if you’re looking for someone good, you can find them on the site. i just don’t want people to have to go through the ordeal i did. we’re only in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut now, but we’ll expand soon. good luck!

  • Howard kcmo

    We came across a bad contractor.

    Scott Cuba from Overland Park, Kansas and has a business: Service Team of Professionals-Kansas City West. He screwed us over.

    He signed a contract to renovate our house in 4 months. 9 months later he still here working slower, lies through his about what is going on in the house. We would stop by and behold not done.
    He was on a draw system through a bank. Even banks can screw up.
    If we’re lucky he may come in 1 or 2 days a week for 2 to 3 hours.

    We’re cursed with Scott Cuba. Arrgh.

  • contract

    Contractors are defined in the law by each state and are usually considered those who contract, bid, negotiate a price or offers to construct, supervise, oversee, schedule, direct, alter, repair, install, improve, move, demolish, furnish labor, etc. In addition, there are various types: building (residential and commercial); electrical; plumbing; mechanical; highway; and environmental (mold/lead remediation).

  • I got another one for you, I don’t think anyone mentioned it, if they did please forgive me. Whenever the contractor is available right away is a bad sign. A good contractor is normally in high demand and booked weeks out often months in advance. Anyone begging for your business or having to much availability is someone I would wonder about. Excellent post!

  • Mark Donovan

    Another sign of a questionable contractor is if he is demanding to much of a deposit upfront. The deposit should be limited to 10%. After material arrives on the site, then you can agree to an additional payment. Never let the contractor get ahead of you in the payment process, else you will loose your barganing power.

    Mark

    For more information about Home Improvement and Home Additions, and Home Remodeling and Repair visit home additionplus.com and homeaddition.blogspot.com.

  • Hector

    I’ve had mixed experiences with contractors and really appreciate the “do’s and don’ts written in this article. After years of pain and anguish, I’ve learned that the best way to figure out who’s who is the check with the Better Business Bureau, the local licensing board or a consumer website like http://www.EveryHomePro.com. In the end, you’re still taking a bit of a risk, no matter who you choose…

  • Joni

    I had an incident where a contractor was hired, I also had an inspector to inspect the contractors work. They became friends. I was informed by the inspector that work was done, the contractor was paid. I found after flying to Kansas City, work was not done. I did contact the better business bureau in Kansas City, and filed a complaint. Legal action is in progress, therefore, more money, on the same project. I would like a good, qualified, honest contractor in Kansas City. If you know of one, let me know.

  • Item number 1 is IMO the most important sign that the contractor is not at par, there are industry standards and most qualified contractors will have very little difference in pricing.

  • We have remodeled our house in stages for the past 20+ years and we have always had great contractors. In our book – The Happy Remodelers – explained that perhaps the best way to get the name of good contractors is thru architects, even if you have no need for an architect you can contact some in your area or some friends may know someone.
    One more thing, never pay in advance. The contractor should give you a bill for work performed and purchased materials on a weekly (or bi-weekly) basis. The final 10% is never due until the project is totally finished and you are satisfied with the work.
    Ignacio Arribas
    Author, The Happy Remodelers

  • Let me preface this by saying I am in the industry.  The problem with
    sales is lack of honesty on both sides of the table.
     If both parties would be honest home improvement would be better for
    everyone.  I have started a lengthy “get us on the same page” phone
    call.  It is amazing how much better this had made life better for me
    and my clients.   I tell everyone upfront the approximate cost, the
    time frame, and how long we will need for the appointment.  Almost
    everyone says “we will call you and let you know what we have decided”
    after 10 years I have had 5 people call me to
    tell me they were not going with me.  The other thousands of people
    lied.  I
    have been told a million times “we don’t know how much we want to
    spend” and waste hours with a presentation and a proposal and told
    “that’s too much.”  Really?!?  But seeing happy people with their
    houses improved makes it all worth it.  Don’t be offended or taken back
    by a contractor smart enough to talk to you about your project before
    they come out.   Here is some free sunroom information.  An factory
    aluminum/pvc sunroom 200-400 a sq ft.  Composite decks 30-80 a sq ft.
    Be open, do research, and be honest.

  • mark tucker

    fort walton beach fl.  raymond duke&keith kemp(bear creek construction.)dont have a clue how to do any construction corectly.cant install doors corectly(tried 3 times)dosent know what square is,cant fallow plans. cant roof what they just tryed to construct,(leaks for the 4th time.cealing now all moldy ,no supports under roof framing.roof framing hanging on tails.2-3 nails per joint.cant do slab work worth a poop.sofar nothing is done right.14′ cricket not done right.1 5/8 on 12 roof slope with demenstional shingles,no thing much under 14′ long cricket kinda like a trampoline.dosent know how to install windoes,dosent know how to use shims for doors&windoes,uses old shingles instead.  be warned stay away!!!!!!!!!!!

  • ruthdabu

    There are only few good people you can find online, whether they are contractor or not, you need to be wise and shouldn’t trust anyone you meet.

  • Keith

    The biggest problem you listed which should raise a red flag (in my opinion) is having one bid being extremely lower than 2 or 3 others. This is a sure sign that something is amiss!

  • sam

    Here’s the absolute BEST way to check out you’re contractor…unfortunately I found out after the fact! Just look his up his personal or company name(s) in your local online court system. The guy is used had a TON of cases and seemed to be making a more lucrative living suing his clients instead of completing the job he was initially hired for.

    He was super sweet prior to the job and then all of a sudden, he was trying to double charge me for items that were within the scope of our initial contract. He would then basically stall progress and i believe on purpose so he could collect as much as possible from the contract and then force you to fire him and then to only hit you with a “breach of contract” suit! This guy was a piece of work…a TRUE FRAUD in every sense of the word!!!

    By the way, he’s a Maryland concrete contractor and his wife is a real estate agent….if you look up both of their names in the maryland court systems, it’s a boat load of cases!! I think the two of them are truly running a scam.

    If anyone has any info on how i can get him investigated, I’d sure appreciate it. I will be filing a compliant with the Attorney General’s office, but would like to know if there are other agencies who could take a deeper look into this couple’s history of business practices. It appears as though that all they do is erect business, defraud people, claim bankruptcy and repeat the cycle over and over again……….

  • jim

    whell ive heard it all 25 yrs in the biz ive found most home owners are scammers and want somthing for nothing any way im frequintly avaliable because i am extreamly expensive i mean i want aaallloootttt because im worth it nar ever a mistake or call back but i dont care about your stupid kids birthday,or your moms liver problem im there to do a job and thats what it is a job dealing with u wining stupid home owners if you hire my co.heres a bit of advice shut the hell up pay the bills and when its over stand in aw of the masterpice ive created but honestly !!!!!shut the hell up and be honest stop your lies u know how much you can spend you know what u want and again i dont give a hoot about u or your stupid family or you i just want your money but i earn evey penny so any way mabye if you shut the hell up stop lieing to the poor guy whos tring to do a good job for you and u stupid scum bags try to talk the price down and any contractor that lisens to your sniviling and comes down on there price deserves to get screwed so next time one of these cry baby home owners trys to talk u down tell them to go stait to hell and walk away o if they say”oh please forgive the mess” and the house is imaculant GET THE HELL OUT QUICK these are the royalty of stupid scaming scumbag home owners and yes most of us REAL contractors cant stand u stupid wining talking purses and wallets thats all u are so shut up pay up and have a nice day

  • Debra

    Great advice. Homeowners really need to do the research before hiring a contractor. I am always amazed when a homeowner talks about the lowest estimate gets the bid, as if that is the only criteria they care about. I try to educate them on what is at stake – Their Home!

  • Josh

    I agree there are so many shady characters out there. I co-own a small deck company in Long Island, NY and my role is to do the outdoor planning and design so it meets the customers needs (ie furniture placement, usage) and my partner handles the entire build process. We are constantly running into low price contractors who dont even ask the consumer a single question as to what they will do with their outdoor living space. Not to mention the work is typically terrible. Its our belief that planning equals a great product and you can only do that if you ask questions. Be very concerned about a contractor or designer that doesnt inquire about your intent for the new space. Not to mention to make sure that what you are planning is viable in the space you have to work with.

  • [...] contractors bids/estimates in writing as well so you can compare.  Run fast and far from a contractor who balks at giving a detailed written estimate.  Most contractors are [...]

  • James

    Hello, I saw your top 5 on Darren’s blog, long time ago, if you’re interested in promoting this top or other you might do, on my new site, here it is Best-Reviewer dot com I don’t make a link, so only those interested can write the url in their browser :-)
    I share adsense revenue at 100%.
    Cheers,
    James

  • Steev

    What about the contractors who do have a remarable craftsmanship ability and finishing work who dont get paid? is he in the wrong to file builders liens and be tarnished as a crook? what about the homeowners who want a reno and cant finish paying the contractor?

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