Tips for protecting yourself from a home improvement scam

A big concern that homeowners have about hiring contractors to work in their home is that they will do poor work or, even worse, disappear with the down payment with the project unfinished. This happens a lot more often than it should. There are a number of things homeowners can do to protect themselves.

Don’t rush it

Homeowners sometimes get understandably anxious to begin a project they’ve been dreaming about and saving for. If hiring the contractor is the last step, it’s easy to just hire whoever can start the soonest. This often ends in disaster. Most reputable contractors work fairly consistently throughout the year so it’s often the best ones who will be working on other projects and may not be available when you want them. Give yourself time to select the best contractor for the job and not the one who doesn’t have anything going on.

Don’t be cheap

Home remodeling is expensive. You should do some research on your own to get an estimate of what your project is going to cost. Armed with an estimate of your own, get several estimates from contractors. Don’t expect their estimates to be exactly in line with yours, after all, they’re more experienced than you are at anticipating the costs of various projects but you’ll at least have a pretty good idea of when an estimate is too good to be true or outrageously high. The lowest estimate may end up being the best deal but never assume that cheapest is best. Some contractors bid low to secure the work knowing full well that they’re going to drive up the cost through problems they uncover during the project. Especially low bids might also mean the contractor plans to take short cuts or use inferior materials that will result in a second-rate finished product.

Use the internet to your advantage

There are many different sites that gather reviews on all kinds of contractors such as Angie’s List or the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Any contractor who’s been in business for a year or more will have reviews written about them so be wary of contactors about whom nothing is written. Take negative reviews with a grain of salt but do pay attention to patterns of complaints.

Get a written contract

When you think you’ve decided on the contractor you want to go with, you should get a contract in writing. This protects both parties from any misunderstandings regarding the scope, cost, and timeline for the work. The contract should specifically state the various stages of the project as well as a list of all required materials. The contract should provide an estimated timeline for when the various stages will be completed. Finally, and most importantly, the contract should detail how and when the work will be paid for. For smaller projects, you might pay half up front and half later but for larger, more expensive projects, you shouldn’t be paying half up front because it’s too big a risk. For larger projects, payment should be divided into smaller installments and those installments should be tied to the completion of various stages of the work.

Ditch the contractor altogether

This isn’t always feasible as many projects require a licensed contractor to do the work but if you don’t want the hassle of hiring a contractor, there are many smaller home improvement projects you can do on your own that will scratch that home remodeling itch you’ve been feeling. Simple tasks like repainting a room or installing baseboard heater covers can be done in a day or even an afternoon.

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