Your home should be your safe haven — the place in the world where you feel the most comfortable and, well, at home. But a home improvement project gone wrong can turn the house you love into your biggest source of stress. In a worst-case scenario, a badly built construction project can cause you and your family serious danger.

Hiring the wrong contractor could lead to a project that:

  • Runs on for months past the date expected, leaving your home in a state of disrepair in the meantime, with workers coming in and out at odd times
  • Costs you thousands more than you budgeted for, putting your savings at risk or forcing you to take on debt
  • Gets you in hot water with the local government for failing to secure the proper permits, also hurting your resale value in the process
  • Requires tedious maintenance and stressful fixes that could have been avoided if it was done right the first time
  • Or, ends up looking notably different than what you asked for, leaving you with an expensive change you’re not happy with.

Any of these scenarios can make your life feel like chaos until you’re able to resolve the issue – if you’re able to. And all of them can be avoided if you take some simple steps to protect yourself when deciding what contractor to hire. A home improvement project doesn’t have to put you at physical risk to make your life miserable.

Don’t choose your contractor based only on price.

In some areas of life, going for the budget option can work out fine. Trying out store-brand ibuprofen or dish soap is unlikely to lead to disaster. But when it comes to your home, the stakes are higher. The contractor you choose will have a significant impact not only on the quality of your new screened porch or finished basement, but also on your quality of life during the time it takes to complete.

A contractor that’s a lot cheaper than their peers is charging less for a reason. Either they don’t have much experience, plan to skimp on the quality of materials they buy, or don’t really understand what the project will entail. And everyone’s heard stories about contractors that get midway through a project and just disappear. The reason that contractor is so cheap is likely to cost you more in the long run.

Steer clear if they’re pushy or try to rush your decision.

Home improvement projects are a commitment. They take time to plan and to complete. As such, it’s entirely reasonable to want to take time to make a decision. A good contractor will understand that. They’ll give you an honest assessment of how waiting to start could impact how long it takes to finish—after all, they have to figure out how to balance your project with those of their other clients. But they won’t be pushy or give you a limited time to commit.

Don’t agree to pay entirely upfront and/or all in cash.

Asking for an upfront deposit is normal and expected. Contractors need that money to cover the cost of materials and labor to get the project started. But asking for the entire amount upfront is a red flag. That’s a sign the contractor may intend to take the money and run, without doing the work. Legitimate contractors will also be set up to accept multiple forms of payment. They won’t insist that you have to pay entirely in cash—that’s a sign there’s something sketchy about the way the contractor works.

Look for signs that their business is established.

There’s a big difference between a contractor who cares about building a sustainable business in the long term and someone who’s just trying to make some money right now. Even if someone in the latter category isn’t an outright scammer, they’re not going to bring the same level of care to their work as someone who values their reputation.

If a contractor has been in business in your community for years and built a solid reputation in the process, you can trust they’ll do good work for you.

How can you tell if a contractor’s business is well established? A few things to look for are:

  • Do they have a website? In the internet era, this is an easy way to spot whether a contractor cares about building their business.
  • How long have they been in business? The longer a contractor has been working, the more evidence you have that they’re legitimate and good enough at their job to keep getting hired. One way to see how long a company’s been around is to check their BBB page.
  • Do they have listings online? A contractor that’s been working for a while will show up on various websites and directories around the web, such as a Google listing, Yelp, and the BBB.

Look for reviews.

Any good scammer can talk about how good they are at their job, but a good contractor doesn’t have to just say so themselves. They’ll have customers happy to vouch for them. You can often find customer reviews and testimonials on a contractor’s website, but consider checking what people say on third-party websites like Google and Houzz for extra confirmation.

Make sure they’re licensed.

In order to become licensed, a contractor must take an exam to demonstrate their knowledge. That means you can trust a licensed contractor to come into the project knowing what they’re doing. But more than that, licensing comes with an extra level of accountability. The licensing board in North Carolina has a recovery fund devoted to covering the cost of any failed projects from contractors licensed in the state. In the unlikely event that you choose to trust a licensed contractor and they fail to follow through on the project you’ve agreed on, you have the power to do something about it.

Get comfortable asking questions.

One of the best ways to get a feel for whether a contractor is knowledgeable and professional is to talk to them. Before deciding on your contractor, set up a consultation with them and ask about a range of topics relevant to the project. Can they speak intelligently about the local permitting process? The best kind of materials for the job and their typical costs? Any supply chain concerns that might hold the project up? Can they tell you what types of insurance they have and why it matters?

Ask them to share referrals.

While reviews and testimonials can give you a pretty good idea of what past customers think of a contractor, you can learn even more by talking to a former customer yourself. Ask the contractor if they can provide the contact information of someone they’ve completed a similar project for in the past. Then talk to them about their experience. Ask about any issues they had, and how the contractor handled them.

Don’t start the project without a contract.

Finally, make sure you have a written contract. A legitimate contractor will have no qualms signing a contract, and will likely already have a standard one they use. A contract protects both of you and helps you ensure you agree on all the basic terms of the project. Any contractor that tries to make excuses for not signing one should be avoided.

Hire a Trustworthy North Carolina Contractor

Fineline Construction has been working in the Charlotte, NC area for 25 years. We’ve worked with many homeowners to realize their home improvement dreams, and have the photos, reviews, and referrals to prove it. If you want a contractor you can trust, give us a call.