A whopping 58 percent of Americans plan to remodel their home this year. If you’re one of them, and you’re not planning a DIY renovation, you’re probably looking into hiring a home contractor. But contractors are notorious for botched jobs, unfinished work and constantly moving end-dates. If you’re hiring a contractor to work on your home, here are eight red flags you need to watch out for, as well as the legal protections that can help you if you get in a jam with a contractor.
Home Contractor Red Flag #1: You Can’t Verify Their Information
You got a business card or a telephone call from a contractor who says they can handle your job. But a google search or an old-fashioned telephone book look up yields nothing. No website, no listing, no reviews. That’s a huge red flag. If your contractor isn’t who they say they are and you can’t verify they really exist, you should be very suspicious. Same goes for their insurance and license number. Be sure to do a search through the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to make sure they have a current license.
Home Contractor Red Flag #2: No References
Any home contractor should be able to give you a list of satisfied customers who you can speak with about their experience. Even a relatively new contractor must have done a few jobs for family and friends that you could talk to. If your contractor doesn’t have references, it means one of two things: they have no experience, or anyone you would talk to would warn you not to hire them. No references, no business – no exceptions!
Home Contractor Red Flag #3: Pressure to Sign
Is a contractor pressuring you to sign a contract for your home repair without even time to read it? Or telling you that you have to sign today in order to get their special low rate? That’s suspicious. Very likely, they don’t want you to know what’s in that contract or have time to shop around before you agree to work with them. Take time to read the contract in full, ask questions, and don’t sign with someone who pressures you into anything you’re unsure of.
Home Contractor Red Flag #4: No Specifics
Be just as wary about a contractor who doesn’t pressure you to sign a contract because he or she can’t give you specifics on anything – the cost, the methods or estimated completion date.
Home Contractor Red Flag #5: Asking to Be Paid Upfront
If your contractor asks you to pay for the entire job in full up front, be wary. You may never see them again after you fork it over. Ditto to being asked to pay in cash. A business that won’t take a check or a money order isn’t one that you can trust. Asking for a large down payment is another red flag. They may be doing it to cover debts on their current projects, which demonstrates they don’t have a handle on their own finances or schedule.
Home Contractor Red Flag #6: Unprofessional Attitude
Your contractor should be open to answering questions and give you complete, specific answers to your questions when asked. If they’re not, you are probably dealing with someone who doesn’t have the knowledge or experience to do the job correctly. Being late, hard to get a hold or failure to show up is another red flag. Look for someone who demonstrates their professionalism through their words and actions – respectful, prompt communication, complete answers, and honors their commitments.
Home Contractor Red Flag #7: Estimate is Crazy Low (or high)
The old adage is true – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Make sure you call at least three contractors to get an estimate on any job you need done. It’s not that you can’t choose the business with the lowest estimate, but if their estimate is much lower than the other two, it may be cause for suspicion. They may not have the experience to properly estimate how much a job could cost, leaving you with bad news later on when they tell you it’s actually going to be much more than they expected. A crazy high estimate could mean they’re ordering more materials than they really need, leaving you on the hook for them.
Legal Remedies for a Bad Home Contractor in Texas
Got ripped off by a contractor? Whether they never completed the job or did it poorly, you may be able to take action against them. Under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Consumer Protection Act, an attorney can help you right the situation and either force the contractor to finish or redo the work or pay damages.
If you’re a Texas Legal member, you can start by having an attorney draft a letter to the contractor, detailing your complaint and what you want to be done about it. This service is free for members, and often, a letter from an attorney will be enough to resolve a complaint. If not, your plan covers consumer protection cases so that your attorney can file suit against the company under the DTPA. Read more about how you can address a consumer protection issue through DTPA and Texas Legal.
Texas Legal members have used the DTPA to pursue problems with contractors and homeowners associations doing work on their homes, as you can read in this story about member Carol from the Austin area. If you think you might have a consumer protection case against your contractor, it’s worth talking to an attorney about your situation. Use our Online Attorney Finder anytime to find a consumer protection lawyer in your area.
When hiring a contractor, it’s good to be proactive in seeking someone who will do a good job, on time and within in the budget. But if you get stuck with a bad one, your legal plan can help you get justice instead.