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Contractor Red Flags: 8 Warning Signs to Watch Out For

Choosing the right — or wrong — contractor to work on your home remodel or addition can be the difference between a successful project and one that flounders. Here are 8 contractor red flags to look for when selecting one for your next project.

contractor red flags: drill

1. Few or no reviews

When was the last time you bought a car, refrigerator, or even selected what to watch on Netflix without reading the reviews first? Why wouldn’t you do the same for your home remodel? In most cases, user reviews are going to give you valuable insight into the contractors you’re considering. And usually, more is better. They demonstrate a lengthy record of experience, and assuming most are good, a satisfied client list willing to take some time to recommend them.

contractor red flags: thumbs down
Photo: Barefoot Communications on Unsplash

If a contractor has little or no reviews, or none of them are good, then they might not be the right choice. You can find reliable online reviews in places like Google, Yelp, Facebook, and Houzz. Even better, if you have friends or neighbors who recently did a remodel, ask if they would recommend their contractor. A word of mouth recommendation is usually one of the best.

2. Low Ball Rates

contractor red flags: coins
Photo: Michael Longmire on Unsplash

If you’re bidding out your project among several different contractors, you’ll likely get a range of quotes back. But if there’s one that seems too good (and low) to be true, that’s probably a contractor red flag. That lower rate for you may mean they’re cutting costs elsewhere. Maybe they aren’t using the highest quality materials, aren’t staying on top of the latest technologies, or worse, aren’t carrying workers’ comp and other insurance. That could mean if there’s an issue on the job site, they may just disappear. Plus, what may seem like a great price at the outset can suddenly multiply as the project gets underway.

Going with the lowest rate can have significantly negative effects down the road, so make sure you consider all your options and ask the contractors you’re thinking of working with what went in to their bids. For example, here at Lamont Bros., we have both design and build teams in-house. Our designers understand what it will cost to build to their specs, and our builders know what to look for if a design may be cost prohibitive given the budget. Having both teams under one roof ensures high quality control at each step and can help eliminate any budget surprises along the way.

3. High Pressure Tactics

hourglass
Photo: Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Another contractor red flag to look out for when selecting a someone for your project are pushy sales tactics. These may include quotes with low rates that expire quickly, a contractor who suggests he may be able to “squeeze you in” if you sign right away, or one who tries to make you divulge who else you’re considering, only to badmouth them once they find out.

A reputable contractor will work with you on things like budget, timeline, and design rather than to try to strong arm you into something you can’t afford and that won’t work with your schedule. They will also stand by their own work rather than deride that of others.

When you notice this warning sign, it’s best to listen to your gut and just walk away.

4. No license or license violations

One of the biggest contractor red flags is a lack of proper credentials. Checking whether your contractor is actually licensed to do the work you’re hiring them for should be high on your list. If they don’t have a license, that’s should give you pause. Most states have online resources where you can check the status of contractor licenses.

In Oregon, where we’re based, you can visit the Oregon Construction Contractor’s Board (CCB). Here, you can see whether a contractor has a license, how to file a complaint, and see if they’re on a “buyer beware” list of contractors to avoid for various reasons.

Bottom line: if your contractor doesn’t have a license, there’s a chance the subcontractors they work with, like electricians and plumbers, may not be licensed either. That could mean questionable or, even hazardous work, on your project.

5. No insurance

contractor red flags: working at desk
Photo: Scott Graham on Unsplash

General contractors in most states are required to carry at least two key insurance policies: contractor’s liability insurance and worker’s compensation insurance.

When you work with a contractor with valid liability insurance, you’ll be compensated for any damages on the property caused by the use of poor-quality materials or subpar work. It covers:

  • Damage Claims – Covers the cost of repair for damages caused by the contractor while doing work on your property.
  • Injury Claims – Covers court judgments and medical or funeral expenses should anyone get injured while on the job (this is different from workers’ compensation insurance).
  • Project Completion Claims – If the contractor fails to meet expected standards, the insurance will cover part or all of the cost of fixing the mistakes.

A Worker’s Compensation policy protects the crew by providing wage and medical assistance in case of on-site injuries. Hiring a contractor with an active workers’ compensation insurance will save you from any financial liabilities in case someone gets hurt while working on your property.

In short, if the contractor you’re considering doesn’t carry these policies, any issues or accidents on the site could be your responsibility.

6. Poor communication

contractor red flags: communication
Photo: Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

Good communication before, during, and after a remodel project is a big factor in what makes it successful. From your first interaction, you want to know that the contractor is responsive to your needs and concerns, is quick to get back to you, and is reachable. This means being able to demonstrate things like:

  • a comprehensive project plan
  • ways they’ll keep you up-to-date on your remodel throughout the duration of the job
  • a plan to let you know who will be working on your home and when, including subcontractors
  • a way to communicate any cost changes
  • a point of contact you can go to with any concerns
  • how to incorporate your design suggestions and recommend best practices

If you’re working with someone who never answers their phone or returns your messages, doesn’t take your opinions into accounts, can’t provide a detailed project schedule, takes days to get back to you, or offers few or no recommendations on design choices, these are all warning signs to look out for.

7. Often shows up late to meetings

clock
Photo: chuttersnap on Unsplash

Showing up on time for a scheduled meeting isn’t just a sign of respect, it also reflects on the levels of enthusiasm, commitment, and professionalism your contractor will bring to your project. If he or she is unable to show up on time for a meeting to discuss your project before you’ve even agreed to hire them, imagine what that may look like if you decide to work with them later on. That could translate into schedule delays, cost overruns, lack of responsiveness to your questions or concerns, and maybe even a project that goes unfinished.

If a contractor can’t manage his own time to show up to meetings, then chances are he won’t manage your project’s timeline very well either.

8. No portfolio of work

Sellwood-Moreland Master Bath Remodel
Lamont Bros.

Most reputable contractors are more than happy to show off their past work, whether on their website, on social media pages, or in brochures. Viewing their previous projects is not only a good way to gauge their level of experience, it can also help you determine whether your design style will mesh with theirs. For example, if their portfolio contains projects using mostly traditional designs, but you’re looking for something more modern, that’s something you’ll want to ask them about during an initial consultation.

If your prospective contractor won’t or can’t provide any previous work examples, this is another contractor red flag. Chances are they or their clients weren’t happy with the outcomes, or they don’t have enough (or any) experience under the belts yet.

At Lamont Bros., we have over 10 years’ experience remodeling homes. Plus, we have a portfolio of work we’re proud of, and a bunch of awesome client testimonials, all right here on our site. If you’re thinking about a remodeling project for your home, let’s chat!