Common Contractor Scams and How to Avoid Them

 
Contractor Scam

Whether you’re beginning a home remodel, or a specialty project like a Mold Remediation, Asbestos Abatement, or Radon Mitigation, the work you are contracting to have performed is a significant investment. Hiring a qualified, trustworthy, contractor is important to ensure that this money is well spent and that you are not being taken advantage of.

Here are some common contractor scams and how to avoid them!

The Licensed / Certified Scam

It can be difficult for homeowners to keep track of which fields require specialty licensing / certifications, and which do not. Some unscrupulous contractors will take advantage of this confusion by claiming to be licensed or certified in fields where no licensing exists, or by implying that broader contractor licensing applies to the work they will be performing.

How to avoid it: If your contractor claims to be licensed to perform a particular service, they should be able to provide you with their license number, which you can then verify with the appropriate issuing body. State licensing, such as is required for Asbestos Abatement and Radon Mitigation, can be checked through the Pennsylvania DEP website (Here for Asbestos Contractors and Here for Radon Contractors.). If your contractor claims to be "licensed" or "certified" in Mold Remediation, this is simply untrue, as no licensing exists in the state of Pennsylvania.

The Testing Scam

In the case of potential concerns such as Asbestos, Mold, and Radon, testing may be desired or necessary. While we can certainly understand that it may be convenient to hire the same company to perform the testing and remediation, this is viewed as a significant conflict of interest. We are regularly called out to provide a second opinion on a mold issue only to find that the remediation company that performed the testing was grossly misrepresenting the testing results. Often there isn’t even a mold problem!

How to avoid it: Always hire an independent 3rd party to perform any and all testing services. While your remediation company can review the results, which will allow them the ability to prepare a more accurate remediation plan, the independent tester can review the results with you as well. This allows you to determine if your tester and remediator are in agreement on what the test results say and what areas are affected.

The Change-Order Scam

This one is becoming increasingly common and happens in every service and construction field. Essentially, the contractor intentionally leaves work they know or expect to be necessary out of their proposal. This allows them to come in as the low bid, often securing the project. Once they begin the work, these “surprises” trigger a barrage of change orders that significantly increase the cost of the project. Once all is said and done, the homeowner finds that they have paid much more than the low ball proposal that they had previously thought was a good deal…

How to avoid it: Compare each contractor’s estimate to ensure that the work being proposed is comparable. Look specifically for estimates that leave out work that is in your other estimates or that appear significantly lower than other proposals. These are clear “red flags” and should be treated with extreme suspicion.

The Phone Estimate Scam

Similar to the change order scam, the phone estimate scam is an example of a contractor providing you with an estimate over the phone without ever seeing the property or the work that you need to have performed. This one is particularly common with Radon Mitigation Systems and should be avoided. What essentially ends up happening is the contractor provides you with a low estimate over the phone and then, once you’ve hired them to perform the work, they supplement their billing with every “change” they encounter. This can add significant additional cost to a project. With every home being unique, it should go without saying that an accurate estimate cannot be provided without first inspecting the property.

How to avoid it: Don’t get phone estimates. The scope of work can change significantly from house to house and you can find yourself with a much larger bill than you had anticipated.

The "It's Included" Scam

Honest contractors will prepare a proposal that clearly defines what they are going to do and where. Less reputable contractors prefer to write summarized proposals that are vague and difficult to read. We’ve even seen contractors that prepare detailed estimates in construction estimating software only to then go to the additional trouble of typing up a summary for their customers! This often creates a great deal of confusion for homeowners and when asked if they’ll be completing a particular task, the response is always “It’s included”… Unfortunately, that rarely proves to be the case, and when it does, the “included” work is subpar and inexperienced.

How to avoid it: If it isn’t detailed in the proposal, it isn’t included. Contractors that claim it is are either inexperienced, or being deceptive.

The Cold Call Scam

Did a contractor show up at your door offering to fix your roof, patch your driveway, or dry out your house? This is an incredibly common scam that comes in two flavors. Either it’s simply a contractor that doesn’t have any work, or it’s an ambulance chaser. Both should be avoided. While the primary concern with contractors that may not have much work is why that may be and specifically how good they are at what they do, ambulance chasers are even worse. These companies listen to emergency frequencies for home fires, chase storm events across the country, or show up following a news story. These are the lowest of the low in our industry and often leave to chase the next storm before they even finish your project. Even if they seemingly complete the work, it is unlikely that you will ever be able to reach them again should you have a customer service or warranty issue.

How to avoid it: If you didn’t call them, don’t hire them. Quality contractors should have no problem keeping themselves busy without listening to emergency radio or chasing storms. These are traditionally the lowest skilled, least qualified contractors that you can hire.

We hope these tips will help you avoid being the victim of one of these contractor scams. We wish you the best of luck with your project and hope that it turns out just as you envisioned it!

As always, should you ever have a need of one of our services, whether it be Water Mitigation, Mold Remediation, Asbestos Abatement, Radon Mitigation, or Repairs, please don’t hesitate to Contact Our Offices!

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