When you’re in need of a home improvement project, whether it be a repair or a remodel, it’s normal to want to get the work done in an efficient, timely, and cost-effective manner. This is especially true if your house has incurred recent damage because of an emergency event, such as a storm, and the rest of the structure, along with your family and belongings, are at risk.
However, every year, trusting homeowners in the Sarasota area are scammed out of hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars when they hire unlicensed contractors and scam artists to perform home improvements without doing due diligence.
The person you hire as your general contractor for a residential remodel or repair sets the tone for the entire process, as well as the outcome. You want to make the right decision.
Many scams related to home repairs are formulaic. Being able to identify red flags and tell-tale signs of a scam can help you protect yourself from fraud. The next step is knowing how to instead find a reputable contractor to handle your home improvement project in Sarasota or Bradenton.
Here are a few signs of a potential remodeling scam and how to avoid them:
1. Feeling Pressured
“One-time deal.” “Attractive financing.” “Before it’s too late.” These phrases are all red flags. Disreputable contractors know people don’t like missing out on a good deal, and they use this to apply pressure onto prospective clients. You should not feel pressured to make a decision to sign a contract before you’ve thoroughly read the contract. A good contractor will always give you time to consider your options; they will not make you feel powerless to say “no.”
2. Too Good to Be True
If a deal sounds “too good to be true,” chances are, it is. While there will be slight cost variations from one remodeling professional to the next in western Florida, be wary of any contractor who dramatically undercuts the others. The biggest impact on the price of your project, besides the size of the space and scope of work, is the type of materials you choose. These factors remain steady, regardless of whom you select as your contractor. A contractor who charges dramatically less may be planning to raise the cost in the middle of the job, or may not perform the work they say they will. Also, be wary if you are approached by a home remodeler claiming they have materials left over from a neighboring job and that they’ll cut you a deal. Materials used in these types of scams tend to be of lower quality.
3. Door-to-Door Contractors
Another type of remodeling scam involves what are called “storm chasers,” who travel to areas recently hit by a natural disaster. Preying upon people who are in a state of emergency, they offer an attractive solution but don’t deliver. Door-to-door scammers also tend to target older homeowners, who may be more trusting. Be cautious if a contractor is from out of state, has a temporary address, or lists a PO Box as their address. You should be able to contact your contractor after the work is done and hold them accountable for any problems. A contractor who does not have a Florida address or a brick-and-mortar location is a risky hire.
4. Requests for Upfront Payments in Full
Most contractors will charge about 10% to 30% of the total project cost upfront for the purchase of materials and other pre-construction services. Sometimes, they may ask for as much as 50% of the estimated price. A contractor or remodeling company who wants more than 50% of the initial cost before beginning may be having financial problems or could be using your job to finance other projects. Best-case scenario, they rush your job and deliver low-quality results. Worst-case scenario, they make the move and leave without completing the project.
5. Alarming Language
Scam artists also use fear tactics to convince you that you must act quickly or the work must be done “right now.” This alarmist language is a definite red flag, especially when coupled with a sense of urgency or limited-time offers. A contractor who appears out of the blue and claims your home is in dangerous condition may not be telling you the truth, and they’re simply trying to rush you into a decision. Get a second opinion, or even a third if you need one.
6. Not Wanting to Pull a Permit
A permit isn’t required for all home renovations in Sarasota, but if your project involves major structural changes or electrical and plumbing work, you must ensure it’s done up to code. An experienced contractor will be well-versed in local building and zoning regulations. More than likely, they’ll pull permits for you. If a contractor offers to perform your job without a permit or is hesitant to assume this responsibility, there’s a good chance they are unlicensed, and you’re being scammed.
Scams harm the people who fall victim to them, and they also weaken the community. If you have concerns about a contractor, file a complaint with the office of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. Reporting scams is a good way to protect yourself and others in your community from predatory contractors and scam artists.
How to Find a Reputable Contractor in Sarasota
Don’t wait for a scam artist to show up at your door. When you have a home improvement project to be done, contact reputable contractors in the Florida Gulf Coast area and get multiple quotes before making a hire. Here are some of the best practices for hiring an experienced and qualified remodeler for your next project:
1. Check the License
Residential contractors in the state of Florida are required to have a license with the Florida Department of Business and Regulations. Before signing a contract, check that the contractor’s license is active on the Florida DBPR website. Click the “verify a license” button on the site to search for a license.
Look up your contractor by name or license number. Even if your contractor claims to be licensed, it’s important to verify that their license number is active and is associated with a business of the same name. The license record will show the name and contact information on the license and the history of complaints, so you can feel confident entering into a contract with that company. The Better Business Bureau is also a good source to see if there are outstanding complaints against a remodeling contractor. Additionally, you should only hire a company that’s bonded and insured as well.
2. Review the Company’s Website
Most modern contractors have a professional website that shows examples of previous work, information about their license, their service area, the services they provide, and so on. Some contractors will even have information about awards they’ve received or testimonials from previous clients. When you’ve narrowed down a couple of options for your home improvement project in Sarasota, their respective websites for evidence of quality and a favorable professional reputation. If your contractor has no website or a shoddy website, this could be a sign the contractor is either behind the times or not terribly professional. Social media and industry-related websites—such as Houzz, HomeAdvisor, and Angie’s List—are also good places to look for reviews about a particular company.
3. Check References
Any contractor who has any experience should have references from customers who have had related work done on their home. Ask for a few references whose projects are similar to the one you’re undertaking. For example, if you’re paying the contractor to remodel your bathroom in Sarasota, ask for references from customers who have hired the contractor for a similar project.
Check all references and ask them a variety of questions, such as:
- When did you work with this contractor?
- Would you hire this contractor in the future?
- What work did the contractor do for you?
- Did your job start on time?
- Did your contractor go over budget? Why?
Asking questions like this could help you create a picture in your mind about how a contractor treats their clients, and how the work will go for you if you choose to hire that contractor.
4. Meet the Contractor at the Site
Never hire a contractor who has not seen the site or walked through the site with you. Talk to the contractor about your remodeling goals and overarching vision while at your home in the area that is going to be repaired or upgraded. This will give you an opportunity to ask the contractor questions and clarify details about the job. You can also get a taste of how well the contractor communicates with clients, which will help you determine whether that contractor is the right professional for you.
I also highly suggest that homeowners visit the contractor’s place of business. Many homeowners have contractors come to their homes to discuss and interview. So, in many instances, they hire someone and have a bad experience.
I’m sure you’ve heard: “you can learn a lot about a contractor from the way they keep their truck.” There are many remodelers that I believe homeowners would never hire if they visited their place of business.
Remodeling Your Home in Sarasota
Finding a top-notch contractor for your job along the Florida Gulf Coast can be time-consuming and tedious, but it’s well worth the effort. You don’t want to hire an unqualified company, or worse, get scammed out of your hard-earned money, in addition to time and energy. At Gilbert Design Build, we perform a wide range of home improvements, such as kitchen and bathroom upgrades and universal design renovations that support comfortable, convenient aging in place for older residents. We bring the talents of our entire design-build team to your project to ensure cohesion and continuity from start to finish.