Your home improvement job comes with a lot of stress as you hunt down the perfect materials and perfect your budget. It can be a game of give and take. One of the factors in a home improvement job that many people overlook is hiring a contractor. While homeowners know they need to hire a professional to do the job, they underestimate how important it is to hire the RIGHT contractor.
A bad or inexperienced contractor can not only ruin your project but cost you a lot of time and money. In fact, an inexperienced contractor can cause you to fail an insurance or permit inspection.
While you may have never had a bad run-in with a company or contractor before, you have probably heard horror stories of people working with the wrong guy for the job. It happens. There are going to be bad apples in every industry but you can help limit your exposure to them by doing your homework to ensure you are working with the best contractor.
Below, we will go over some tell-tale signs of a good and bad contractor. This way, you know what to look for as you call around and you do not find yourself in a situation you don’t want to be in later on down the road during your home improvement project.
1. The Deposit
The deposit can be a big determining factor in whether you have chosen a good or a bad contractor. A good contractor will only require a deposit of somewhere between 10 to 30 percent of the job cost. This is standard and done to help cover the cost of materials and supplies. The amount of deposit you pay will vary depending on the size of the project as well. A good contractor will clearly discuss this with you, and it will be fully represented in the contract along with the type of payment made, when it is made, and what payments are left, along with their due dates.
A bad contractor is likely going to ask you to pay 100 percent of the project upfront before the work even begins. The reason they do this is that it is likely that they plan to take the money and never return to do the actual job. If this happens to you, you will find that anytime you reach out to them, they have an excuse as to why the work has not been started. Eventually, all communication with them will end.
2. The Estimate
We talked about the deposit, but what about the actual estimate? Is there a way to distinguish a good contractor from a bad contractor?
When you think about it, a home improvement project takes time to plan, which means an estimate should take time to be done too. A good contractor will want to understand what materials you want to use, your desired outcome, your budget, the local building codes, and several other things. Prior to even giving you an estimate, the contractor will work closely with you to discuss what it is you are looking for. Once they have a good idea of this, they will then create an estimate for you that includes everything you are looking for.
A bad contractor will not take nearly as long to evaluate your needs or provide you with an estimate. In fact, some bad contractors will quote you over the phone without even seeing the area of your home where you want to have the project done. Also, bad contractors will not give you a true estimate and will simply give you a ballpark quote. In most cases, this ballpark is grossly underestimated, which means you will be hit with large expensive fees at the end of the job. You may also find that if you do hire a bad contractor, they will find many issues with the home as they are working on it, as this will allow them to increase the cost.
It is important to keep in the back of your mind that a contractor uncovering a problem that was not seen during the estimate is not always a red flag. Sometimes, things happen, and contractors cannot see behind your walls until the wall is opened up. It happens and you may find that a problem arises during the project. The difference between a good and bad contractor will be the steps they take when this happens. For example, did they show you the issue? Did they provide a solution and options to the problem?
3. The Product Quality
The quality of the product used in your home improvement project will make the difference between how well the update holds up over time and whether it provides you with function or a headache.
A good contractor will only use the best materials and highest quality products based on the customer’s budget. These contractors will also take time to discuss the materials with you and go over the pros and cons of the materials you are choosing.
A bad contractor does not care about product quality and will utilize the cheapest materials possible. This saves them money but costs you in the short-term and long-term as they are charging you for a premium product. You should always ask to see the materials that they plan to use for the job.
4. The Quality of the Work
Talk is just that – talk. Anyone can tell you that they can do a good job and provide you with a beautiful home renovation. A good contractor will be able to show you that they can do a good job. They will have previous customers ready to speak on behalf of them. In addition, they will have a good track record of BBB ratings, building code compliance, and active licenses.
A bad contractor will not worry too much about the quality of their work. In fact, they will cut corners to make their work appear legitimate only for it to break or lose its integrity soon after they leave. These contractors may not even have a license and they may not have referrals or recommendations for you to consider.
A home improvement job that is done poorly puts you and your family at risk. Remember, a good contractor will make sure that your safety is above all else and that the job is done in the safest manner possible. A bad contractor does not care because they already have your money.
5. The Timeline
All construction projects have timelines. Good contractors will be upfront with you about the expectations regarding the timeline. They will have an efficient number of workers on the job and the project will progress daily. Of course, hiccups will occur and this is normal. A good contractor handles these hiccups immediately and keeps you updated as to the completion date of your project.
A bad contractor will often keep finding reasons to not get the job done. You will find that they have minimal manpower on the job, and they are often absent during the project. Bad contractors will seek out excuses as to why they are not there instead of offering you solutions.
Two Other Warning Signs of a Bad Contractor
While the above are some of the biggest signs of a bad contractor, there are some other subtle signs that you want to keep an eye out for.
First, always be suspicious of very low rates. While you might want to save money and feel like you are getting a good deal, it is oftentimes the opposite. For example, if you have received quotes from four total companies and all say somewhere between $9,000 and $10,100 but one says $6,500, there is a problem. Choosing a contractor with low rates is not always the best route to go as it may end up costing you more money in the long run when you have to fix their mistakes.
Second, bad contractors will not have insurance or a license. They typically fly by under the radar and do not take the necessary steps to get insurance or a license because they can then be tracked and held accountable. The biggest issue with the contractor not having insurance is that if any of the contractors are hurt on your property, you will be liable. Always ask to see their licenses and insurance BEFORE you hire them and go ahead and call to make sure they are valid and active.
Hire the Right Contractor for Your Home Improvement Project
It is likely that you will run into a bad contractor at some point during your home improvement project. Knowing what to look out for can help protect you and the investment you are about to make in your home. Remember, good contractors are honest, reliable, and licensed.
Working with a bad contractor can become a serious headache and financial investment for you. It is not something you want to have to worry about – trust us.
Take some time to find the right contractor for the job and never be afraid to ask questions.