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Contractor red flags

RedflagWhen you work with a contractor: things generally start out great and then go downhill.

As the job progresses you’ll likely get weary, overwhelmed, and angry. To help you survive this experience — which will drain you every which way imaginable — you need a contractor who is ethical, organized, financially fit, and tuned in to human nature.

There are lots of red flags that a contractor might not have the qualities you need. Here are a few:

• Doesn’t have a California contractor license. You can check this out here. If you are hiring a handyman to hang a picture on the wall, fine, no need for a license. But if someone is doing alteration work to your home in California, and that work is valued at more than $500, he or she is required by law to be licensed by the Contractors State License Board. If your contractor does not follow this simple law, how many other laws will he break? Will you get the right permits? Will your job be built to the right standards? Who knows?

• Doesn’t respond for several days after you’ve called the office. This is the tip of the iceberg. The biggest complaint homeowners have shared with me is that they can’t reach their contractor. If it starts out bad like this when they are trying to get your business, it will get worse during the job. You'll experience fewer episodes of high blood pressure if you choose someone who, by nature or company culture, returns calls in a timely manner.

Pushes you to sign a contract. In some ways, that’s what we all want, to be pushed, to be encouraged, to be wanted. But this is far too big a deal to make a rash decision. Choosing a contractor could take weeks of research — talking, pondering, calling references and seeing previous jobs. And here’s a tip: Never get a referral from people who are just starting their remodels. Spirits are high then, and nothing has yet gone wrong. Only consider references from people whose remodels are done. Then you’ll know the whole story of what it’s like to deal with this contractor.

• Shows up in a dirty, beat-up truck. This could be a sign of later problems where you feel the quality of the job should be higher than it is. Although you might not want to live with or marry a persnickety, picky, fussy person, that is who you want building your remodel. The truck will tell a tale. You want your contractor to be a successful business person, not someone who is struggling, careless or disorganized.

• Doesn’t listen to you. Again, this will be a constant problem as the job progresses. If you’re talking laminate and tile in the initial interview and he’s talking hardwood and granite, you’ve got a problem. Also, if you’re a woman and you fell disrespected during the initial conversation, don’t hire this guy. Chances are, in a bigger company, a project supervisor will be assigned to your job. This person might be called a lead carpenter, or a foreman, or a lead man. You need to meet this person to see if you can get along. In a large job, like an addition or whole-house remodel or even a major kitchen remodel, it will seem like this guy is living with you. Make sure he’s someone you want to have around.

What would you add to this list?

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