With homeowners looking to embark on major projects, the Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to be careful of unscrupulous contractors looking to take people for a ride.
Roofing continues to be the type of business profile that consumers search for and view the most, with almost six million searches for roofers last year on www.bbb.org, and it also generates a large number of complaints. A recent report to BBB Scam Tracker, involving a North Vancouver resident who lost $4,500, has prompted a warning about paving or driveway repair scams.
Hiring a reliable and trustworthy contractor for any home repair project is crucial. Hire the right one, and you can relax knowing that your project is in good hands. Hire the wrong one, and you could be facing a wide range of problems, from sub-standard work to no work at all.
A frequent scam set-up involves a contractor visiting your home and claiming they have leftover materials from a previous job, meaning they can do work at a significantly discounted rate. The catch is that you have to pay upfront.
Since the contractor is using leftover materials, the quality of work can be poor. In other situations, the contractor never shows up at all, leaving customers out of pocket. Consumers often do not have a way to contact the representative or the company they work for, because they were never given a business card or do not have an agreement in writing.
If your next home improvement project has you searching for a roofing or paving contractor, BBB has the following tips:
Research and gather information: Search for a contractor’s Business Profile on BBB.org. Also search for the name of the company online along with “Complaint”, “Review”, or “Scam” to find different results. Ask the company if employees and sub-contractors undergo a background check. Are they trained and certified? What identification will they show when they come to your home?
Read customer reviews and get references: Read customer reviews on their BBB Business Profile to see if the business honours promises and is responsive to customer questions. Also ask the contractor for a list of recent local references you may contact. Ask the references about the services performed, their overall experience with the contractor, and the quality of the work. Ask if the contractor stuck to the estimated budget and completion date for the project. If possible, inspect the contractor’s work yourself.
Get multiple quotations for the job: You should always shop around and get at least three quotes from different businesses. Make sure all bids consider the same set of criteria. Clearly written proposals that are detailed and broken down into separate line items are a good sign that the contractor is being thorough and has prepared an accurate estimate. Remember that the lowest bid may not necessarily be the best bid. If one bid is significantly lower than the others, the contractor may be cutting corners or may not understand your work requirements.
Make sure you understand the full scope of the project: What exactly is the contractor going to do? Will they be doing spot repairs or a complete replacement? What happens if there is bad weather while your project is underway? Also, consider ancillary matters. A roofing job will require the use of ladders that can cause damage when leaned against your gutters or stuck in your lawn. How will your roofer protect against damage or fix things after the job is done? Make sure you understand the pros and cons of the solutions and that everything is detailed in a contract.
Get it in writing: Always get estimates in writing and never let any work begin without a written and signed contract. Do not be pressured into signing an agreement before you are ready, and make sure you read and understand everything before signing. The contract should include contact information, start and complete dates, a detailed description of the exact work to be done, any material costs, payment arrangements, and warranty information. Specify who is to obtain necessary building permits and who is responsible for clean-up. Make sure all verbal promises are included in the contract. Ask how much work will be subcontracted and ask for information on the subcontractors. Ask questions if you do not understand any part of the contract. Never sign an incomplete or partially blank contract.
Don’t be pressured: Trustworthy contractors will provide a written estimate that will be valid for days or weeks. They will also not rush you by telling you they need to do the work immediately. Reputable companies are usually booked well in advance, and cannot start the next day.
Avoid cash-only sales: Most reputable contractors will take credit cards or other forms of payment. Avoid making an upfront payment in cash. Wherever possible, use either a cheque or a credit card so there is evidence of the transaction. If a down payment is requested, negotiate the percentage of the down payment relative to the overall quote. Contractors may legitimately request a down payment as a sign of good faith, to reserve the date, book workers and equipment, and acquire materials. However, the down payment should never be the full value of the job.
Beware of out of city/province contractors: Look at the vehicle the representative travels in. If it is unmarked or has an out-of-province license plate, be cautious. Even if the representative claims to have a local phone number, scammers can easily purchase disposable cell phones to provide a local number in the area.
If you have spotted a scam, even if you have not lost any money, report it to www.bbb.org/ScamTracker. Your report can prevent others from being victimized.