Man fixing the roof of his home

With the recent wildfires in the West and flooding in the Northeast, you can bet people are walking around, checking on and helping their neighbors. Among these kindly and helpful door-to-door visitors will be some with a more nefarious purpose, hoping to con people by offering cleanup and repair assistance.

Reputable home improvement companies don’t wander around looking for customers. These individuals are seeking out people who are stressed and may jump on a good deal without checking their credentials.

Chances are they’ll either do a substandard job and you won’t be able to find them to redo or complete the work, or, especially if you’ve paid upfront, you’ll never see them again.

When it comes to hiring contractors who come to the door, Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List, urges caution. “If someone’s going door-to-door, you should pass on hiring that company and do your research. You’ll want to work with a local company that has a good reputation,” says Hicks.

With that in mind, there are five steps to help you hire a reputable contractor.

Get Multiple Bids

Speak with several contractors who specialize in the kind of job you need and get written estimates from at least three. When you compare estimates, look beyond price to compare the quality of the building materials, work methods and timelines. Be cautious of estimates that are too high or too low and ask questions about anything you’re not sure about. You’ll want to hire a contractor who communicates well with you – so if there are signs of nonresponsiveness now, look out!

Hire Local When Possible

Local contractors should be easier to contact before, during and after your project, and may be more familiar with local building codes or homeowners association restrictions. Ask for a physical address and references so you can inquire about the quality of their products, their workmanship and if the customer would hire them again. It’s a good idea to check with the Better Business Bureau too. I recently hired a tree-removal contractor who assured me he was licensed and insured. However, when I entered his name, I learned the BBB gave him an F rating (their lowest) and he wasn’t licensed. BBB also has a scam tracker on its website to help you spot scammers and file a report.

Check Credentials

It’s important to make sure a contractor’s credentials are in order, including licenses, bonding, insurance and references. “Don’t just take their word for it,” says Hicks. “Ask for a copy of their insurance policy.” The contractor’s certificate of insurance should provide the name of the insurance company, policy number and the policy limits. It’s a good idea to contact the insurance company directly to ensure the policy is in effect and to verify coverage. “You’ll want to make sure they’re insured for damage to your property and injury to any of their workers who are hurt on your property,” says Hicks.

Don’t Rush

Read the fine print on all estimates and contracts. If a contractor says you need to sign immediately, watch out. Take your time and do your due diligence. Even if you’re recovering from an emergency and don’t have time to thoroughly research a contractor, ask neighbors, family or friends to see if they’ve had a good experience with an emergency services contractor. Don’t hire that person walking around! Don’t pay in advance or in cash! And don’t pay in full until the project is complete and you’ve done your final inspection. Plus, if subcontractors were used, ask for signed releases so it’s documented that they’ve been paid in full by the contractor, advises HomeAdvisor.

Keep a Project File

A written contract signed by both parties should outline the project, including its start and estimated end date, cost and payment milestones. If it’s a large project, for example, you might pay one-half down and one-third when work is partially completed, and the balance due upon completion and inspection of repairs. The contract should outline all guarantees – what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee and how long the guarantee is valid. Contract changes should be acknowledged by all parties and in writing, says HomeAdvisor.  Keep everything about the project in a file because, after all, “You never think you’re going to have a problem until you do,” says Hicks.

Do you have any advice on contract services? Let us know in the comments below!

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