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Look out for these contractor red flags

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It’s frightening to think the contractors you pay to work on your home may not always have your best interests at heart. While most pros take their duty of good work seriously, there are still those who seek to take advantage of people’s trust. Fear not, though; there is a solution for every underhanded scheme. And in all cases, the best solution is to stop the fraud before it starts. Here’s our rundown of some of the most common scams and the best way to avoid them.

THE FLAG: The excessive down payment

Your contractor asks for a down payment that seems high for the job.

THE SOLUTION: Down payments are entirely normal since contractors usually have big material purchases to make. However, a crooked contractor can easily take the money and run, and often ask for more than they should. Be skeptical of any contractor who asks for more than 1/3 the cost of the job. (Some areas, such as California, govern down payments with specific limits. Be aware of your state and local laws.)

THE FLAG: The scare tactic

Here’s a true fright: You hire someone for a job, such as installing a new roof, and they quickly start talking about five other things they should fix right away. And oh yeah, they’ll cost a lot more money.

THE SOLUTION: It’s easy to fall for this one because it’s so logical. If you’re doing a big job, such as removing a roof, it makes sense that you’ll uncover other invisible problems. To avoid this, always get a second opinion before tacking on additional, expensive extras to a project that’s already underway. Also, look out for scare tactics in their wording. If they say, “Your chimney is about to crumble!” rather than “Your chimney could use some structural work,” be skeptical.

THE FLAG: The guy with extra materials Someone knocks at your door. “Hey, I was doing a roofing/siding/driveway/etc. job in your neighborhood, and I had some materials left over. I’ll work on your house at a discount so I don’t waste them. What do you say?”

THE SOLUTION: This is one of the classics. Good contractors don’t use leftover materials on second jobs. Odds are this person has some low-quality materials and is going door-to-door with the scheme. If you hire them, the work will be shoddy, and you’ll never see them again. Politely turn them down and close the door.

THE FLAG: The storm chaser A recent storm did significant damage to your roof. You need repairs, but most companies are booked solid because everyone else in the area got hit by the same storm. Someone shows up at your door saying they’re willing to work on your roof and even work with your insurance company.

THE SOLUTION: Roofing experts say this is one of the most common schemes because it’s so tempting to believe. Storm damage often takes weeks for local roofers to catch up with, and you want your roof fixed ASAP. Storm chasers know people are desperate, so they travel around with pop-up businesses to weather-ravaged areas. They’re good at eyeballing how much an insurance company will pay for a particular roof and do the bare minimum to cover it while claiming the entire insurance check. Then, once the storm has passed, the company vanishes, never to be seen again.

To avoid this, only hire licensed, bonded and insured pros who maintain a local and established presence. You want to find someone who will back their work if there are problems years down the line.

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