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How To Spot A ‘Shady’ Contractor

What signs might indicate you are dealing with a 'shady' contractor?

When selecting a contractor to do work on your home, there are a number of signs that probably indicate your contractor may be a little “shady.”

First of all, a contractor that gives you a discount for deciding “today” is simply trying to pressure you into signing a contract as quickly as possible — so you won’t get other estimates. In essence, when a contractor “discounts” their services in return for your making a quick decision charged you too much in the first place! A reputable contractor will actually encourage you to obtain other estimates. A reputable contractor also knows what its product and labor costs will be for nearly every job, so you should receive a firm, bottom line price right off the bat — not jacked up prices in order to provide you with a “fake” discount.

Secondly, a contractor that promises you that it will be able to begin work in only a couple of days is either lying to get a quick sale, or its terrible reputation has reduced its backlog of work to the point that it needs work to remain in business. A quality contractor is in great demand, so you may have to wait several weeks before the contractor will be able to fit you into the schedule. (We’ve heard horror stories of customers signing contracts with a contractor in April, but the contractor doesn’t actually show up to do the work until September — although the customer was promised a quick start date in order to get the contract signed.)

You can tell quite a lot about the quality of the contractor by how quickly the company can provide you with an estimate. A contractor needing work to keep the doors open will often show up the same day or the next day, while a quality contractor may have a backlog of homeowners who are interested. Just as you may have to wait for an appointment with a medical specialist that has a great reputation, a quality contractor may also have a waiting period.

A backlog isn’t a bad thing; it’s an indication that the company has a good reputation, offers fair prices and is in great demand. The best restaurants are the ones that have a waiting line out front and a full parking lot; the same can be said for contractors. Deciding to choose the first, quick estimate often results in a homeowner paying thousands if not tens of thousands more than he or she should — and often receiving inferior service.

Shady contractors will often charge for an estimate — or pressure homeowners into making a quick buying decision. Reputable home improvement contractors offer free, no obligation estimates and don’t pressure homeowners to make a fast decision. Reputable contractors work hard to “earn” your business.

If you have an issue of any kind and you can’t get anyone to call you back, you are probably dealing with a contractor that really doesn’t care about its reputation. Reputable contractors will call you back quickly, because they want to be in business for a long time and aren’t just looking for a quick buck. Owners of reputable companies will often call customers personally, because they care about their companies’ reputations.

Shady contractors may also change product lines frequently. We know of one waterproofing contractor that has sold three different lines of products in less than a year. What will their customers do if they have issues with their system and the company can no longer obtain replacement parts?

Less-than-reputable contractors may give you a verbal warranty, but likely will not put their warranty in writing. The best contractors may also be backed by a national network, that will continue to warranty products, even if the contractor you purchased from goes out of business five or 10 years from now!

Lastly, a few contractors also may not inform customers that people coming to their homes to make a sale or the employees who arrive to perform the work are subcontractors, not employees. Subcontractors are typically more interested in making a quick sale or completing the work as quickly as possible than in doing quality work or providing great service before and after the sale. This is one question every homeowner should ask: “Are the sales people and workers for your company employees or subcontractors?”

Basement Authority of West Virginia urges homeowners across West Virginia to do their homework before choosing a contractor. In the long run, asking a few questions or being a little careful can save homeowners thousands of dollars and a lot of headaches!

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