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Tips for home improvement month: 5 contractor nightmares and how to avoid them

Hiring a contractor to work on your home can be a nerve-wracking experience—how do you know you won’t be cheated? If the contractor comes cheap, will they do a good job, or will your home end up looking worse than before (and be unsafe to boot)? At Paul Davis Restoration/Emergency Services of (location), we understand the many stresses that a homeowner can experience when opening your doors to a service professional. In honor of home improvement month, we’ve put together a list of contractor nightmares and tips on how to avoid them.
1. They ask for a lot of money—upfront
Of course, any good contractor will want to be paid some money upfront. But if your soon-to-be contractor demands the full cost of the job before any work has begun, it’s a serious red flag. Sadly, many unsuspecting clients will pay the money, only to never hear from the contractor again. The best way not to be cheated? Before signing your contract, make sure they’re asking for a reasonable amount and never pay with cash—if they demand cash, they could be operating “under the table” and likely will refuse to provide you with any paperwork or written guarantee to do the job. If they won’t bend on the upfront cost, find a new contractor and consider yourself lucky for dodging a bullet!
2. Quality isn’t their concern
Is cracked drywall or a leaky roof standard work for your contractor? You could end up hiring a subpar or sloppy contractor if you only speak to them by phone and never check their references or see any of their finished work. Before signing a contract, call the listed references and ask them not only about the work’s quality, but about the contractor’s customer care and problem solving throughout the project. If possible, visit some of the homes they have completed and inspect them. Is the work up to your standards? Finally, do a background check on the contractor—have they ever been sued? How’s their credit history? Are they fully licensed by your state? Doing this legwork before signing on the dotted line will help ensure that you don’t make a costly mistake!
3. They’re unscrupulous with the contract
Picture this: You approach the contractor about when your building permit will be ready. Their response? “That’s not in the contract, but I’ll do it for an additional $1000.” Any scrupulous contractor should handle all building permits—it’s a key part of the job and you shouldn’t have to pay more money to get it taken care of! The lesson? Read your contract carefully, and then read it again. Make sure you know what is and is not the contractor’s responsibility. If you need help, consider hiring a construction attorney who can look over the contract with you and make sure it’s sound—and that you’re protected. Finally, never assume any oral agreement holds; always get everything in writing!
4. They drag the project on…and on…and on…
Was your project supposed to be finished in “two weeks?” If “two weeks” has turned into “in the future” with no explanation, your contractor is unnecessarily dragging out the project—probably in an effort to charge you more. The best way to avoid this money pit? Get the daily start and stop times for work on your project written in your contract (for example, the workers will be there Monday through Friday, 7 am to 3 pm). This will ensure that the contractor has his crew at your house working to complete the project on time. You also can consult with an attorney about adding penalty clauses to the contract in case the start and stop times aren’t observed in the future.
5. Contractor? What contractor?
Perhaps every home remodeler’s nightmare is waking up to find your contractor has disappeared. If your contractor is dodging your calls and has stopped showing up to work, or if things seem strange around the work site—vendors claiming not to have been paid or installations only half-complete, for example—there’s a chance your contractor might have abandoned the job. Preventing a project meltdown requires due diligence on your part: Be sure to check your contractor’s references and previous projects before hiring them, and read the contract carefully before signing. During the project, make sure to touch base with your contractor frequently and check in on your home’s progress regularly. If something seems wrong or strange to you, voice your concerns. Finally, consult an attorney if necessary and file claims with the state licensing board—taking action might be the only way to see your project finished, whether by your contractor or a more scrupulous one!

Paul Davis Restoration of Maine & Central Maine, Servicing: Bangor, Old Town, Lewiston, Portland and the surrounding areas.

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