How to Spot a High-Risk Contractor

In this article we are going to show you how to spot a high-risk contractor and talk about why it is important to avoid them. This is our fifth part in the “19 Secrets to Smart Home Remodeling” series.

Low-Risk Contractors vs High-Risk Contractors

It’s been said that only the rich can afford to buy “cheap”, because they can afford to buy again. For the rest of us, we have to buy smart, because we can’t afford to spend more money to make something right that should have been done right to begin with. I’ve been in thousands of homes and have noticed that homeowners who have had bad experiences or horror stories about past contractor are much more careful when hiring in the future.

These veteran homeowners do far more research about the quality of the contractor they are looking for before deciding who they are going to invite out to their home. This is just the opposite of what the rest do. These veterans will not invite just anybody that returns their phone call. They are going to be selective, as they’ve learned that there are low-risk contractors, and high-risk contractors. By being prudent on the front end, you can weed out the high-risk and deal with only the low-risk. It’s no wonder that contractors rank so high on the list of complains by the Better Business Bureau.

Characteristics of High-Risk Contractors

The following are common complaints and some behavioral characteristics of high-risk contractors.

1) They don’t return phone calls and are never on time.

If they can’t do this at the start of the relationship, imagine what it will be like when the project is underway.

2) Contractors never show up on time.

This is a sign of disrespect and lack of organization. Again, if they start this way, what will it be like once the project has started?

3) They came out to look at the works and you don’t hear back from them.

This is totally unprofessional. Every meeting should end with clear expectations as to what is going to happen next and when. It is also an indication that the work is outside of their capabilities. They can either get back to you with an exorbitant price or just not get back at all. When the contractor doesn’t live up to the post-meeting expectation, cross them off your list.

4) Two weeks for an estimate – haven’t you done this before?

Really now, in this age of computers, why is someone still going back to their home and scratching figures on a napkin trying to figure out how much to charge you? High-risk contractors say they will be back in touch in a couple of weeks (of course, most of the time you end up having to call them). When they finally get around to your estimate one to two weeks later they can’t remember important details and measurements. As a result, they rely on either guesswork or outright omission. How can you trust that kind of pricing? There are estimating databases (similar to auto repair manuals) that permit estimates to be done in the home for any size project that does not require design.

5) They don’t finish what they started and they won’t return my calls.

They either don’t have the knowledge to complete something they are unfamiliar with, or they knowingly (or unknowingly) under-priced the job and are losing money and do not have the dignity to live up to their agreement, so they are working on another job where they can make money.

6) They create extra charges for what should have been part of the contract.

This happens frequently when the contractor doesn’t spend enough time investigating the conditions and explaining the risks to you. Of course something unexpected can come up, however, with experience and careful examination by the contractor, he can give you an idea of the possibilities so that it is not a surprise later. Also, a clearly written contract that states what is and isn’t included clears misunderstandings later.

7) The project takes forever and why aren’t they on my job?

A lack of coordination of materials and labor, special orders not placed well enough in advance, and the work started before all the resources could be in place for a smooth and orderly progression of the work all contribute to this. Again, under pricing the job is usually a factor.

8) They are loud and messy and I would not trust them alone at my home.

These type of contractors usually have no company policies in place for worker conduct, appearance, or clean-up.

9) Poor quality workmanship.

First of all, quality has to be a company value. While some people have more skill than others, quality workmanship is a matter of pride. By and large, proud construction workers want to please others. They generally have a neat personal appearance, drive newer vehicles, have better tools, and are better paid as a result. You might think: “Jeff, come on, that’s a bit superficial isn’t it?”

I would respond that in my 30 years in construction, I have noticed that the most reliable contractors or subcontractors have a great deal of personal pride that is reflected in their appearance, timeliness, quality of workmanship, honesty, and integrity.

10) They don’t do warranty work and/or they just seem to disappear.

This is dishonorable! If you have a warranty, you have to back it up. If someone won’t back up their warranty, it is more likely than not that they failed you previously in one (or more) of the previous nine complaints above.

These are all very common among high-risk contractors, and nearly every one can be prescreened. The construction industry is among the top five industries for business failures, and it is a consistent leader in complaints with the consumer protection agencies. Only 4 percent of construction businesses make it to the 10-year anniversary.

Most construction businesses are started by skilled tradesmen, but the one thing they lack is business training, and if they don’t get it in the first five years, they will fail. With proper training they realize they have to charge for their services as other professionals do just to stay in business. They would implement systems and procedures for consistent results, answer phone calls promptly, show up on time for appointments, and honor their warranties. In essence, they would conduct business as any other professional would.