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How to Spot a Scam Contractor

How to Spot a Scam Contractor

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Most contractors are honest. Reputations are built by providing quality service at a reasonable price. People like to complain about contractors, and often with good reason, but there are very few outright dishonest contractors. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Some will try to squeeze every last penny out of a job, regardless of merit, and others are just out-and-out scam artists. This article will help you see the tell-tale signs of a scammer, a Bunco man, a fraud, or just a cheat.


It is a fact of contracting- and life- that sometimes the unexpected happens. Prices can go up. No client likes this, but no contractor does either. It is a headache. A good contractor will allow for some flexibility in their pricing. Don’t listen to a contractor that promises the absolute lowest price, that indeed gives you an astonishingly low price. Chances are they are just trying to lure you in, and then hit you with more costs once the project is underway. If they offer a discount for signing right away, they are probably a scam, trying to get you to act quickly thinking you’ll save money (this is the same trick that infomercials use). Even if they have good intentions, and stick to the price, low prices usually mean worse material, which will cost you in the long run. You don’t have to go with the most expensive person, of course, but find someone who is upfront and who is just trying to pitch you the smoothest sale. Make sure you have a contract as well, or you will have no recourse in the case shoddy work or worse.


”Well, supplies are really expensive, and we won’t be able to afford them all if you don’t pay 100% upfront.” If you hear this, ask the person to leave your house. Reputable contractors get approximately 1/3rd upfront. This is a show of good faith on both sides (don’t forget, this is also the contractors livelihood). Another 1/3rd comes halfway through the project, and then the remainder is paid at the end. It is expensive to do a job, so the contractor does need money throughout, but asking to be paid entirely upfront is not how a decent, honest contractor does business. This should all be in the contract. It is hard to emphasize enough how important a contract is. It is pleasant to think a handshake should be enough, but that is not the case.


No timeline is going to be exact, of course. But you should know going in an approximation of how long your roofing job will take, or how long you’ll be dealing with bathroom remodeling, or your backyard landscaped. There are a few reasons for this. One is basic human nature. You will be a lot less stressed if there is an endpoint, a rough date to look forward to, instead of wondering when all this will end. But this is not a psychology article. The more important reason is because a dishonest (or incompetent) contractor can stretch out the work, fail to show up, charge you ridiculous labor costs, etc. This goes hand-in-hand with paying upfront.


The sloppy contractor might be well-meaning, and doesn’t actually want to over-charge you, but his lack of skill makes him spend too much of your money. The scam artist is different. They are trying to put one over on you. They’ll use cheap material, shoddy craftsmen, smoke and mirrors to lull you into thinking a job is done, and then as soon as they are gone the cracks start to show. They’re offering you a cheap price, but you get a lot less than what you pay for. There are some ways to spot them, though. Do they go door-to-door? Most people with a good reputation don’t solicit you. Do they have cards? A web presence? A way to check on them? A van with their name on it? If the “answer” is no, it is because they fly-by-night, and don’t want you to be able to look them up. They will most likely try to pull any or all of the things above. Some decent contractors might want money upfront or offer insanely low prices, but if there is a confluence of these things, you are probably dealing with a scam.


Look, we’re not saying that you need to have a fancy website to be a good carpenter. I know I’d much rather have someone who knows their way around a circular saw than someone who can design a fancy site. A good site can answer a lot of your questions about things, but that is not necessarily what we are talking about. Look them up online, but not on their own site. Look up reviews, testimonials from other clients. Good reviews are great of course, and even some bad reviews should be taken with a grain of salt. A truism of modern life is that people love to complain on the internet over things they don’t know about. “I would have made that shot” when complaining about sports or “They were too loud with their hammers” when complaining about contractors. What you should pay attention to is if they are on review sites or not. If not, they probably change their name a lot to fly under the radar, and are almost surely scams. Be sure to look at customer service sites as well- if they are listed on there they are legit.

As we’ve said, the huge majority of contractors and honest and competent, and care about their clients and a job well done. But, as in any walk of life, you have reprobates, and in this field they prey on the non-expertise of potential clients. It is fairly easy to shield yourself from them. First, make sure you check consumer resource sites to learn about the work that needs to be done beforehand, so you don’t get suckered in by confusing lingo and gibbering nonsense, and can dictate terms on a more equal level. And always look for the signs we talked about above. Make sure you get qualified contractors for your house!

--Mitch Logan

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