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Beware of the Snakes, Fakes, and Otherwise Unscrupulous Contractors

September 27, 2012

This article is a repeat because I recently encountered a situation where I was “laid off” when a customer found someone to do the project “for half the price.” This happened after I had the work scheduled and had already purchased materials. Not a nice way to start my day.

What I am concerned about is that the person she found to do the work for half the price is unlicensed and uninsured. I want to remind you how important it is to do the right thing. So……let me remind you……

I’m not shy. I have no problem drilling the people I’m thinking of hiring to do work for me – whether they are fixing my computer or teaching my kid Russian (and I may not have gone far enough there because my kid does not, in fact, speak Russian).

The point is, I’m not concerned about sounding like a bi@$$h. Why? Because the truth is that drilling down to ensure you are making the right hire is not bi@$$hy. Men do it all the time. It’s business. The people you are screening are going to be doing work for you, not a favor. You are paying them for goodness sake. And if they don’t welcome the third degree, chances are that something is off.

I know that many of you “bi@$$hes” are right there with me. But I also know that sometimes we women tend to sacrifice our wants and needs because we’re being nice (a.k.a. being a pushover). We don’t want to rock the boat. Or because we think we are being budget conscious.

So when it comes to pre-screening our contractors – or overseeing them on the job – we tend to say things like, “Would you like some lemonade?” rather than, “Would you like to get your muddy shoes off my antique rug?”

You are the general contractor of your life. You are the boss. You can be a nice boss, but you have to be smart boss, too.

So, if you are you thinking about hiring a contractor to do a project you can’t DIY (or don’t want to), take my advice and get the quality of work you want instead of, well, a nice big mess.

1.     Just because the contractor is listed in the Yellow Pages or does not mean they are licensed and insured. Check for their license number online at:  (or your state mhic licensing board address) and ask for proof of insurance. It is VERY important and it is your responsibility to check credentials – buyer beware.

2.    The best way to hire a contractor is through word of mouth. But whether you have a referral or not, ask for references. And CALL! Do not be afraid to ask lots of questions: Were you happy with the end result? Were you happy with the process? Was the project completed on time and within budget? (If not, ask for specifics – it might not have been the contractor’s fault). Were the contractor and actual work team polite? Did they listen? What was the experience of having the contractor and his/her team in your home like?

3.    Ask for pictures of finished projects like yours. For small jobs, pictures may not be available. In that case, you can review pictures of unrelated projects. You just want to get a sense of the contractor’s work.

4.    Ask how many other projects the contractor will be working on in addition to yours. Be sure they are not spread too thin.

5.    Check to see if complaints have been filed against the contractor. Check the Consumer Protection Agency or the Better Business Bureau. You can also Google the contractor’s name and business name.

6.    Always, and I can’t stress this enough, ALWAYS get a written estimate and/or contract. Make sure that the paperwork spells out what will happen if there is a problem or the cost exceeds the quote. Look for a start and end date. Ask the contractor to break out labor and materials separately. A good rule of thumb: Labor should be about twice the cost of materials.

7.    If something makes you unhappy during the course of the project, stop the work until the problem is straightened out. Do not continue with a contractor you are not happy with. No matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel, it’s better to end the relationship than to continue when you are less than pleased.

8.    If you are not going to be there while the work is being performed, have someone else stop by, or come home early/leave late on certain days. Always be aware of what is happening.

And, be aware that if they are uninsured and get hurt at YOUR house while doing work for you, they can sue YOU! It does not matter that they came in and worked without insurance and/or a license. You will pick up the bill.

Here’s to women finding the right contractor!

Jo Ellen Soesbee, the ToolBox TomGirl

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