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Watch out for these contractor red flags

By Paul F. P. Pogue, Ask Angi
Published: May 18, 2024, 6:05am

Nearly all contracting jobs go smoothly. You hire them, they do the work, you pay them, everyone moves on happily. Nonetheless, every so often, you run into an unscrupulous contractor who only has dollar signs in their eyes and thinks you’re the perfect mark. Arm yourself with information and keep a lookout for the red flags that indicate a contractor may be about to scam you.

THE FLAG: “We had some materials left over from another job. We’ll give you a good rate on a driveway resurfacing job if you hire us right now.”

THE RESPONSE: Turn them down politely.

THE PROBLEM: Experienced contractors don’t usually have extra materials left over to just go wandering up and down the street looking to get rid of them. The odds are high these are traveling contractors with no local address, possibly using substandard materials. If you hire someone like this and have a problem with the work later on, you’ll often never find the contractors again.

THE FLAG: “We don’t need to bother pulling permits for this project.”

THE RESPONSE: Make sure all necessary permits are pulled.

THE PROBLEM: Sometimes, unscrupulous contractors will cut corners and try to save money or time by claiming you don’t need permits for a project. Rules vary from place to place, but anything that involves load-bearing walls, or running new pipe or electrical wire often calls for a permit and an inspection.

Permits are often required for good reason. And even if the work turns out fine, unpermitted work can complicate a home sale if it comes up during the inspection.

THE FLAG: “We don’t need to put anything in writing.”

THE RESPONSE: Always get it in writing.

THE PROBLEM: Reputable contractors have no problem putting things in writing. Written agreements protect both sides in the event of disputes or problems with the work. A good contractor will be willing to provide copies of their licensing and insurance, receipts, warranties, and any other important part of a paper trail.

THE FLAG: “Everyone’s really busy with last week’s storm, but we can fit you in today.”

THE RESPONSE: Hire a reliable local professional.

THE PROBLEM: After a major storm that might have downed many trees or damaged many houses and roofs, local contractor schedules fill up at lightspeed. But then you see an ad for a company you’ve never heard of before that’s offering to fix storm damage ASAP. Storm chasers are traveling companies that descend on a territory after severe weather, collect as many down payments and insurance checks as possible, and disappear after doing shoddy work or no work at all.

It’s better to wait on a reliable local pro that you know stands behind their work, than to hire a storm chaser you’re not likely to see again.

THE FLAG: “Trust us, we’re going to use high-quality materials on this job.”

THE RESPONSE: Don’t let the job run on autopilot.

THE PROBLEM: The bait-and-switch is an old and common scam with roots far beyond contracting. The unscrupulous pro shows off high-quality paint and carpet that they’re going to use on your job, you pay a down payment to buy the necessary materials, and then they buy a few high-quality materials, skimp on the rest, and then they pocket the difference. In this case, paying close attention to the job will protect you. Double-check all receipts for purchases and make sure they’re using the quality materials that they promised.