It’s every homeowners worst nightmare. You find a guy on Craigslist, Facebook, or Angie’s List and he seems legit and competent. He offers to do the work for half the price of anyone else out there and as luck would have it he can start immediately. You give him your money, and he shows up the next day with his crew of guys. They look a little sketchy but you think to yourself, “OK so they dig in the dirt and work around sawdust all day. They don’t have to be pretty, as long as they do a good job.”
A week later your kitchen is gutted and ready for plumbing and wiring to begin, and no one shows up. You call the guy and no answer. A day goes by, two, you can’t find him on Craigslist, Facebook, his phone has been disconnected. Where did he go? You just paid him thousands of dollars.
This scenario happened to a client of mine several years ago. She came to me after her contractor had run off with her money. Luckily she was able to recover most of it through a lengthy legal process, but many people never see their money again. None of this changed the fact that her family had to basically camp in their house for two years with elementary aged children. Literally she used a Coleman Camping Stove and toaster oven to prepare their meals. You can’t really put a price on that inconvenience.
One of the agencies responsible for dealing with these creeps is the Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB). Last week the CSLB did 12 sting operations across the state and apprehended 76 unlicensed contractors, 14 in Los Angeles, and 15 in Moreno Valley. They used leads from previous complaints, ads on social websites like Craigslist, Facebook, even the almighty Angie’s List. They also used business cards displayed in local businesses. In some cases contractors were using their own expired license number, in other cases they either did not have one or used a false one. The most dangerous ones are ones that use someone else’s license number that is in good standing on their business cards.
Here are some things you can be aware of to prevent from becoming a victim.
- Good things aren’t cheap and cheap things aren’t good: Beware the low-baller. If this guy is coming in so much less that the others there is a reason. Maybe he doesn’t understand everything you need done, maybe he is going cheap and cutting corners on the materials or the labor. There are four possible outcomes. One one hand he may end up charging you more later in the project by saying “Oh I didn’t realize you meant you wanted THAT done. That’s extra.” On another hand he may just take your money and run. Or he may just do such a bad job that the walls fall down around you after he leaves and you have to pay someone else to do it right. Or you might just get lucky, and have found the deal of the century, and get the job done well, on time, and cheaper. Avoid the low-baller. This is your home we are talking about, are you really willing to risk it? Speaking of which…
- This is your home, what you say goes: Make no mistake, you are hiring an employee, you tell him what to do, not the other way around. It is your job to tell him what you want, and unless it violates a building code or is a safety violation, it is his job to tell you how much, and how soon. I had an elderly client one time that specified some very nice high end ROHL Faucets for her bathroom. The plumber took one look at them and said, “I won’t warranty the installation unless you use my faucets that I pick.” She looked at him, looked at her general contractor and said “That’s fine, if your plumber can’t handle the job, find another one or I will. He’s fired.” You should have seen how fast he back pedaled and told her he would be happy to oblige.
- Ask for everything in writing, and yes spelling counts: I remember one time a plumber wrote out a quote for a client that was broken down by room, but did not specify what labor was to be done in the room. To top it off he spelled it “plumming”. Really?! “<blank> & Sons Plumbing” was printed at the top of the invoice! How lazy do you have to be? This is not someone you want working in your home. Make sure there are details covering what work will be completed, and in what time frame – and hold them to it.
- If he or she asks for a large sum up front, walk away and report them: According to the CSLB any licensed professional such as a contractor, painter, landscaper, plumber, etc. is prohibited by law from asking for full payment up front. In fact it is illegal to ask for or accept a down payment of more than 10 percent of the total home improvement contract price or $1,000, whichever is less.
The bottom line here, is if it seems too good to be true, or if something doesn’t feel right, you should not be afraid to walk away. The good contractors have no problem showing all their cards. You should never feel like you are being unreasonable asking these questions.