People want to keep their most important investments -- their homes -- in the best shape possible. That means hiring general contractors to make repairs to a leaky roof, to install upgrades such as a beautiful set of decorative windows & doors, or even that kitchen remodeling project they've been planning for years.
Choosing the right general contractor -- one that is trustworthy and has a good reputation -- takes time and effort. Consumers don't have to be private investigators, but they can learn some valuable tips in ferreting out the good from the bad.
To start their search for reputable general contractors, people should find information on companies' websites, they should ask for personal referrals, and check out testimonials, Google ratings, other awards or accolades companies have received.
For example, A.S.I. recently received a Better Business Bureau (BBB) certificate of accreditation to reflect its high commitment to standards of trust for the past three years. Having an award like this can build relationships with customers. They can also learn more about a contractor's company from Google or BBB client reviews.
Once the search is whittled down, there are five red flags that should grab a consumer's attention:
• Consumer rights pamphlet: The first red flag is contractors not giving their clients a home repair consumer rights pamphlet from the Illinois attorney general's office. This explains certain rights such as the right to cancel within a specific time frame and determine if the contractor has proper insurance.
• Complete payment up front: Contractors should never ask clients for all the money up front before a project begins. Typically, established contractors ask for one-third or one-half of the payment.
• Licensed and insured: Contractors not having any proof that they are licensed, bonded and insured is a very important red flag. Contractors should also have proof of general liability or workman's compensation.
• Off-season: The busiest season to hire contractors is usually between March 15 and December 15, but it's important to notice fraud occurs more often in the off-season such as the winter months.
• A project plan: Contractors not providing a scope of work in writing is our final red flag. They should provide a written contract, a detailed description of the project, and a payment schedule breakdown. From my experience nine out of 10 people don't get a scope of work in writing. Without this consumers are literally left in the dark.
In addition to these red flags, consumers also need to be alert to instances where contractors will ask their customers to send a check to a name or a company that is different from the ones they presented them in the initial meetings.
Without using these red flags as a guide, there can be disastrous results. There are many stories where things have gone terribly wrong. I remember one instance where a retirement community with location(s) in the north and west suburbs was approved by their insurance carrier to repair hail damage to their roofs and siding. In this example a contractor came, took their first insurance check and never did the work. About 50 residents were affected.
The biggest mistakes that people make are not doing their due diligence -- "checking the boxes" -- in seeing if these are reputable companies and looking at Google reviews. People can save themselves a lot of heartache and worry if they do their homework and keep these five red flags in the back of their minds before their search begins.
• Jay Andreas is CEO of A.S.I. Construction, a Burr Ridge-based company founded in 2013 that provides residential and commercial exterior remodeling and restoration services in Chicagoland.