6 ways not to get conned by a contractor

What started as the renovation of your dreams has suddenly turned into a nightmare. Behind schedule, over budget, and not looking anything like what you had envisioned, it can start to feel like you’ve been had. While there are many great contractors out there, some are just bad apples, looking to swindle you. Before you start on a big renovation project, here are some common contractor scams to look out for.

Do Your Research

You probably wouldn’t go to the doctor’s office complaining of symptoms without checking things out on WebMD first, so why hire a contractor to do a job without first researching best practices? When undertaking a major renovation job, it’s important to do your homework so that you can speak knowledgeably about what you want. Some contractors will try to skimp on unseen elements, like proper weather-proofing beneath shingles or using subpar materials — places where they think they can cut costs without you noticing. So make sure you are well-versed in the project’s details. That way you’ll be able to ask good questions and demand top-quality construction.

Beware Sub-Contractors

It’s an all-too-common story: You’re paying top dollar for a renovation job, but the contractor throws the work to a cut-rate sub-contractor and pockets the difference. While sub-contractors aren’t always bad news — sometimes a contractor needs to bring in a specialist for a certain type of work — if you see workers from a different company show up to a job, it should set off a few alarm bells. Are they licensed and insured? Do they have references that you can check up on? You’ll want to ask a sub-contractor the same questions you asked the contractor before work on the job begins.

Get a Lien Release

In some states, when a contractor stiffs his suppliers, the suppliers can go after you. If a contractor fails to pay the lumberyard or tile supplier, you could get stuck with the bill and a supplier can slap a lien on your home until you pay up. To ensure that you’re safe from an unscrupulous contractor, ask for a lien release before the project starts, which will protect you from angry suppliers.

Get Your Own Materials

Whenever you can, it’s a good idea to buy your own materials for a job, or pay the supplier directly. It’s possible a contractor may be getting a trade discount and passing the savings on to you, but many mark up materials stiffly to line their own pockets. To avoid getting shafted on materials, either buy your own or request that the contractor give you an itemized price list up front. That way you can head to your local hardware store to see if you’re paying fair market price or being taken for a ride.

Beware Door-to-Door Salesmen

Good contractors are constantly busy. If a contractor comes knocking, offering to fix up a few things around your house at a cut rate, it’s a good indication they are desperate for work. Often these contractors will claim that they are working on a job up the road and noticed a few things that might need fixing around your house. While there’s no harm in getting an estimate, you should treat these contractors with a bit of suspicion and shop around to get the best price.

Beware the Change Order

Changes can be expensive and many contractors will make you pay dearly for deviating from the original plans. If you decide on a different style of tile or an extra doorway mid-way through a job, a contractor might agree to make the changes but stick you with a hefty bill at the end of the project, claiming they had to buy new supplies or draw up new plans. If you want to make changes to the original plan, make sure to ask for a clear amendment to the contract with a firm price before giving the go-ahead.