5 On Your Side

Hiring a contractor? Try these tips

Posted April 25, 2011 6:41 p.m. EDT
Updated April 25, 2011 8:10 p.m. EDT

— 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.

“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."