Your home is where you spend many of the most important hours of your life. You want it to be comfortable, safe, and matched to your personal preferences. That’s why choosing the right contractor for a home improvement project isn’t a small decision. The stakes are high, both in terms of the costs involved and the impact a bad contractor can have on your quality of life.
The risks of hiring an unreliable contractor are high. Sloppy work can mean safety issues that put you and your family at risk. An unreliable contractor could stop showing up before the project’s complete, leaving your home (and your family) in a weird, messy limbo until you can find someone else to take over. Or you could face the all too common experience of a project that goes way over budget and beyond the planned timeline. Talk about stressful. In short, the contractor you choose matters.
To avoid your dream project becoming a nightmare, here are ten red flags to be on guard for early on:
They don’t ask the right questions.
Part of a contractor’s job is to help you visualize what’s possible and realistic within your means. That means knowing the right questions to ask to understand what you want out of the project and how best to get you there. If a contractor you meet with doesn’t seem to care much about what you want and makes a lot of assumptions without listening, you’ll face an uphill battle getting them to hear you. A good contractor will ask you upfront about your budget and preferences and show clear interest in your answers.
They can’t answer basic questions.
In addition to asking you helpful questions, they should also be able to answer the main questions you have. A knowledgeable contractor with experience will know how to respond if you ask about how different materials compare, what the local permit situation is like, and what kind of common issues to expect. If you ask for their expertise and get little more than a shrug in response, that’s a warning that they don’t have the knowledge needed to do the job well.
They don’t require a clear contract.
A contract is necessary to make sure you’re both on the same page, and any contractor worth hiring will insist on one. Not only should they provide a contract, but the terms within it should be clear and sound fair. If the contract’s confusing, the terms of it seem suspect, or they try to rush you into signing it without giving you time to properly review it, they’re probably not trustworthy.
The cost sounds too good to be true.
A good deal can feel hard to pass up. But when it comes to a home improvement project, a surprisingly low price could be a red flag. A contractor that doesn’t know how to properly estimate a job or who intentionally bids low to try to get the job isn’t necessarily going to let you off the hook for the higher costs that come up. You could end up watching the price tag creep up throughout the project until it’s much higher than expected by the end, be stuck dealing with cheap work that costs you more in repairs down the line, or worse, that causes safety issues for you and your family.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You’re better off paying more upfront for a contractor that can give you a realistic estimate for doing the job right the first time.
They don’t honestly address unknowns.
While an experienced contractor should be able to answer your main questions about the project, those answers will sometimes include admitting to the things they can’t know upfront. An honest contractor won’t make promises they can’t keep. They’ll let you know that the estimated timeframe for a job could be affected by weather conditions or structural issues they didn’t know about going in.
While not knowing exactly what to expect from a project like this is frustrating, it’s also the reality of how construction projects work. A contractor worth trusting will be upfront with you about what to expect.
They require upfront payment in cash.
It’s normal for contractors to require a deposit to get started, but if they try to push for full or majority payment upfront and in cash, there’s a chance you’re dealing with a scammer. Anyone running a legitimate business will offer multiple ways to pay, and will only ask for a partial deposit upfront.
The company isn’t established.
One way you can be absolutely sure a contractor knows what they’re doing is if they’ve been running the same business for years. No contractor can stay in business for the long haul unless they’ve done good enough work in that time to keep their reputation intact and earned the kind of customers that keep coming back. You can confirm a contractor’s reliability by checking to see how long the business has been around. The BBB listing will tell you as much, and let you know if past clients have issued complaints against them.
They lack testimonials or references.
Another clear sign that they have proven experience is the ability to provide testimonials and references. Ask the contractor if they can share specific examples of similar projects they’ve done and if they’ll provide names and contact information for happy customers who can vouch for their experience with them. Any contractor that’s been doing this work for a while should have no trouble sharing the details of specific projects and happy customers.
They aren’t licensed.
In North Carolina, a licensed contractor has to take an extensive exam to prove they have the knowledge needed to do the job effectively. Having a license serves as clear proof that they’re reputable and know what they’re doing. In addition, it ensures accountability. If a licensed contractor doesn’t do a good job, the North Carolina licensing board has a recovery fund that will pay out damages to clients. Hiring a licensed contractor is a way to protect yourself and gain some extra peace of mind that your project will be a success.
They don’t have insurance.
A good contractor will do everything in their power to prevent accidents and injuries on the job. But building things can be risky work even in the best of circumstances. To protect their business, your home, and everyone working on site, a reputable contractor will make sure they invest in insurance. This is a normal part of doing business for any established company, so asking if your contractor has insurance can be one more way for you to confirm that they’re a safe choice to hire.
Avoid Red Flags By Hiring Fineline Construction
Finding the right contractor can be stressful—you know it’s an important choice, but it’s hard to know who you can trust. If you want to steer clear of all the red flags on this list and start with someone worth trusting, Fineline Construction can help.