5 On Your Side

Hiring a contractor? Try these tips

Posted April 25, 2011

— Thousands of homes in our area are in need of repair - some major, some minor. No matter what the level of work, you want it done as soon as possible, and done right.

So how do you keep you from being ripped off by scammers?

Scam contractors are a problem when we're not in the middle of a disaster, but a crisis like this one makes people that much more vulnerable.

It’s something one set of new homeowners doesn’t have to worry about.

Just one week after they moved into their brand new house in Raleigh's Arbor Chase, a tornado sent trees right through the roof.

It has to be torn down and rebuilt.

The owners are lucky though – both because they weren't home when the twister hit, and because their original, licensed, insured, and award winning builder, Kevin Nunn from L and L of Raleigh, was immediately back on the job.

WRAL 5 On Your Side Tips for hiring a contractor

“The main structural supports of the roof actually snapped in half,” Nunn said. “The whole second floor structural support is gone and it’s creeped into the first floor.”

Damage like this attracts people who often are not as qualified as Nunn.

“The day after the tornado, there were people in here passing out cards," Nunn said.

That's why Nunn is concerned that homeowners, desperate to get repairs done, could lose even more by hiring the wrong contractor.

"You have got to research and do your homework," Nunn said.

Tips for hiring a contractor: 

  • Start by getting at least three estimates that for insurance purposes include everything from repairs to clean-up. "Everything that can be done needs to be in that estimate," Nunn said. “The unforseens can get you, and you don't want to be gotten."
  • And when you get those estimates, no matter how major or minor the work don't be too quick to jump at the lowest bid. A Consumer Reports survey actually showed that people that went with the lowest bidder got poorer quality work. On the flipside, going with the highest bidder doesn't guarantee great work either.
  • That's why you should call at least three references. Ask about quality, clean-up, how changes were handled, were calls returned and was the job was completed on time and on budget. If not, find out why.
  • Make sure the contractor is licensed. In North Carolina, a contractor's license is only required for jobs that cost $30,000 or more. But while that license doesn't guarantee success in a job, it does show a certain amount of professionalism and competence.
  • Get proof of insurance and verify it so that you're not liable for problems.
  • Get a written contract that specifically lists what will be done, a payment schedule and a time table, including a completion date.
  • And never pay too much up front.  "They should have the finances and the resources to get that project rolling, it shouldn't take 20 to 50 percent to start your project," Nunn said. “If they're saying that, then that's a red flag to start with."

This story is closed for comments.

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  • billwilsonnc Apr 28, 2011

    I have been a contractor for 20 years and we always get a reasonable deposit upfront to purchase materials and then a printed draw schedule tied into construction progress. I don't have $10,000 laying around to purchase materials and even if I did we have to watch out for unscrupulous homeowners that want to renegotiate after the project is complete . I have lost a ton of money over the years because people add things and fail to pay. I always chalk it up to continuing education. I must have a PhD in construction war stories by now.

  • solidbuildersgirl Apr 27, 2011

    If you need a Contractor you can trust, check out http://www.solidbuildersonline.com or call 388-3958. You can view the 5 star ratings online about this company and see their testimonial page.

  • sidecutter Apr 27, 2011

    To BMG379, regarding why you have to pay a permit fee to turn your power back on.When your meter base was repaired by the electrician the work has to be inspected to see if it was done correctly and this requires a permit. Once the work passes inspection the City sends a notice to the Power Co. and they come out and re-connect you. The process is no different than if you wanted to up-grade your service.

  • superman Apr 26, 2011

    Dont forget that if the contractor has the materials delivered to your house and he doesnt pay-- the building supplier can put a lien on your house and force you to pay. Go with the contractor and pay the suppler when the materials are going to your house. Saame with subcontractors if the contractor doesnt pay them-- you will have to. Your house, your job and you are responsible. Have the contractor to show you a paid receipt for materials.

  • froggygirl Apr 26, 2011

    I have to agree with Common Sense Rules about the BBB. I've had bad experiences with them--multiple times. A bad rating is a red flag. A good rating means that maybe the're OK, but check further.

  • sczarnecki Apr 26, 2011

    You never give the contractor any money what so ever.Only when the job is completely done and you are satisfied.If he needs money up front,tell him to get lost,that tells you that there is some thing wrong.Be carefull everyone.

  • lisamferg12 Apr 26, 2011

    HMI is the best contractor in the area that I know of. http://www.hmigc.com/

  • bmg379 Apr 26, 2011

    One thing I would like to comment on,Why is the city charging permit fees to have the power turned back on ,isn't it enuf if your box was knocked down and upgraded by an electrician you have to pay those fees.my meter power was working fine till trees knocked it down,what a ripoff

  • bmg379 Apr 26, 2011

    any good is co can name you as additional insured and email or fax you documents,the low bids are never the best way to go.A few years back after an ice storm my roofer double decked my roof and it was a tad high,but no trees came thru my roof this tornado and all my neighbors had bad damage.some contractors do require a materials cost upfront to make sure they don't get taken.

  • stoop24 Apr 26, 2011

    I made the mistake not checking into someone when I needed my door fixed. AJ MALONE came out and did part of the work while breaking a peice of the door on his own. He left the work unfinished with some payment. He later wouldn't come back and changed his number.