Realtor.com quoted me in Beware of These 8 Red Flags When Hiring a Contractor. It opens,
Finding the right contractor for a major renovation is like finding a spouse. You have to have chemistry, you have to be on the same page, you have to trust each other, you have to love pugs, and you must share a passion for Korean barbecue (oh, scratch the latter two—it’s not totally like finding a spouse). And while there might be more than one Mr. Right, there are plenty of Mr. Wrongs who can transform your beloved renovation project into a nightmare (and give new meaning to the term “punch list”).
In 2011, the average U.S. homeowner spent $2,889 on home improvements—it’s a pretty penny, but a fraction of the cost of a big project like a major kitchen overhaul ($60,000) or bathroom renovation ($18,000). So a lot of cash is at stake here, along with your mental health! Here are some matador-worthy red flags to look for when researching a contractor, and strategies for finding one you’ll love.
1. They have lousy reviews
We live in a world saturated with social media, where it’s harder for bad contractors to hide. When you see a Yelp review that slams a contractor, your antennae should go up. Not that any one review is gospel; review sites often are battlegrounds for competitors who unfairly slam one another.
“Anyone can have one or two bad reviews from cranks or revenge seekers, but a pattern of problems or red flags should make you think twice,” says Sandy Edry, a real estate agent with Keller Williams in New York City.
2. They’re not responsive
As in any long-term relationship, communication is key. If you have trouble getting a contractor on the phone before you give him your business, imagine how hard it will be for him to return calls after he already has your security deposit. Give a prospective contractor 24 hours to return your introductory call—48 hours, tops—before you move on.
3. They insist on unlimited time and materials
The best way to wreck a budget is to sign a time and materials contract that puts no fence around expenditures. Make sure a contractor offers you a flat fee for a project and specifies how much change orders will cost. If he won’t, walk. Or run.
4. They lack a sense of humor
When it comes to home renovations, Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong, will) might be a bit exaggerated (although we know quite a few homeowners who’d beg to differ). No matter what, you should be prepared for at least one unexpected problem to arise. Look for a contractor who can keep his footing when things get rocky, and has the expertise to remain calm—and to help calm you down—while sorting out a solution.
5. They overpromise
Before you sign a contract with anyone, do your homework to get a rough idea of how long a project should take and cost. Remodeling’s Cost vs. Value annual report provides national averages for popular projects and is a great resource. Beware of contractors who offer you a much lower price and faster delivery. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
6. They have outdated references
Good contractors have a constantly revolving list of new and satisfied customers. If they can’t provide a current reference, perhaps the quality of their work has dropped.
“You don’t want any old references,” says David Reiss, research director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship in Brooklyn, NY. “You want references for recent and current jobs, and for jobs that are similar to yours.”