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Wednesday, June 8, 2022

How to Find a Reputable Contractor

 By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy Pixabay

As much as most people fret over filing a homeowner's insurance claim, one thing that pains them even more is worrying about hiring a contractor to repair a damaged home.  Face it, working with a contractor can be a high stress situation at best and a roller coaster ride at worst that can wind up emptying your bank account without successfully completing the task at hand.  Get it right and your property will be as good as new.  Get it wrong and you could wind up paying far more than the insurance company's check will cover.  To keep you from losing sleep over dealing with contractors, I thought I'd take the time to give you some helpful hints designed to weed out the good from the bad.

Beware of Eager Beaver Contractors - Every time a hurricane or other natural disaster comes through town you'll see scads of contractor representatives running around knocking on doors.  These eager beavers are quick to tout their company's ability to fix your home's problem for a low, low price.  The problem is, if you believe their claims, you could be in for a wild and woolly ride.  That's because predatory contractors rise to the occasion like sharks to the scent of blood.  Like it or not, some of them are out to defraud unwary homeowners.  

Dave Clawe, CEO of the National Insurance Crime Bureau sums it up like this, "After most disasters, these shameful contractors use well-rehearsed, predatory practices to exploit stressed disaster victims when they are most vulnerable. As a result, survivors pay these bad actors who do little or no work."

That's right, sometimes a slick sales pitch can result in a homeowner signing up with a contractor who has little or no intention to do the job for which they're getting paid.  Even worse, a homeowner who stops payment on one of these slippery Sams can wind up in court or even find a contractor's lien being placed on their property which could ultimately result in having their home sold out from under them to satisfy the debt.  Before you wind up in hot water, you need to keep several things in mind before you sign on the dotted line with any contractor.

#1: Make sure you look before you get took. - The last place you want to look for a contractor is at your front door.  Getting an unsolicited pitch to repair your home should be a red flag that warns you of potential danger.  Face it, you don't know these people.  You've never had any dealings with the company they represent.  You don't even know if there is a legitimate company behind the representative.  If your home needs to be repaired, get a referral from a neighbor, a friend, a family member, or your insurance agent before you sign on the dotted line with any contractor.  Then get online to search for reviews before you ever ask for a bid.  Find out how long the company has been in business.  Check them out with the Better Business Bureau.  Once you're sure that a contractor has a good reputation, only then is it time to ask for a written and highly detailed estimate.  (I recommend you get at least three from companies you've vetted online.) You also need to see a contractor's business license and insurance certificate, not to mention their physical address and phone number. Last but not least, ask for and verify references provided by any contractor you are considering.

#2: Is the lowest bid always your best bet? - Not always.  As they say, the devil's in the details and you need to make sure that any bid you get includes everything you need to get the job done.  One way for an unscrupulous contractor to underbid the competition is to exclude such line items as labor or the cost of materials and permits needed to complete the repair.  Before you accept any bid you need to make sure that some omission on the quote isn't going to rear its ugly head once the project is underway.  Also make sure you ask whether the bid is an estimate or a fixed price.  The difference in the cost to complete a project could be substantially more for any bid that's only estimated.

#3: Should you pay up front for work that has yet to be done? - Being asked for an upfront payment is another warning sign that you're dealing with the wrong contractor.  Pay an upfront fee and you could soon find that a contractor will stop taking your calls or will do a quick and sloppy repair job that you'll have to redo later.  Like it or not, the only leverage a homeowner has over a contractor is the ability to refuse to pay until the job is acceptably accomplished.  If a contractor tries to tell you they can't pay for the necessary materials themselves, it's time to look for another contractor.

#4: I don't need to pull a permit. - Unless all three contractors that you've are bidding state that a repair requires no permit, chances are this is a bald-faced lie that you could later come to regret.  If a permit isn't pulled, no inspector will show up to check on a contractor's workmanship.  This could prove costly should subsequent damage occur to your home due to a contractor's negligence.  It could even result in having an insurance claim denied.  Better to pull a permit and have the work inspected than to risk having your home damaged or destroyed by shoddy workmanship.

#5: Never take a contractor's word for it. - Always insist on having everything in writing unless you want to spend lots of time in small claims court.  Also, make sure you read each and every word on a contract before you sign it, including the fine print.  Once you sign on the dotted line, you are responsible for each and every codicil delineated in writing.  Moral outrage is not defensible in a court of law which is where you could wind up if you renege on a contract.

#6: Houston, we have a problem. - If your contractor comes to you in the middle of a project to inform you that there are going to be additional charges for material that wasn't included in the contract you could be in a pickle.  In fact, many underhanded contractors use this very tactic to low bid a project only to demand more money once the work has begun.  To keep from getting bilked after the fact, insist on having a line item in the contract that contains a description and price including material and labor for any work that wasn't included in the original estimate.  

#7: Have I got a deal for you! - Along with the eager beaver sales reps there are some pitchmen who have been known to knock on a homeowner's front door only to tell them that they have some leftover material from a completed job that they can let them have for a song.  If this should ever happen to you, send the representative packing because the only song you'll hear if you agree to work with them is the sound of your money singing goodbye.

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida Insurance in Orange Park, Florida. To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at http://aplusallfloridainsuranceinc.com

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