True story: I once owned a home that was previously the personal residence of a shady contractor. Let me tell you how I knew.
For one, an investigator from the state’s contractor board came to see if he still lived in the home. That’s never a good sign. This was my first introduction to the “gentleman,” as there was at least one other owner between us.
But because I lived in a funky neighborhood on a hill in a 1920s house that had been rebuilt — turns out, only an original set of stairs remained so he could avoid paying steeper “new development” fees — everyone knew the “gentleman.”
Oh, his reputation reached far and wide. I once ended up in a conversation with a stranger that somehow came around to the subject of contractors. I mentioned my run-in with the state investigator.
“Oh, that guy? He ripped me off. I hired him after the 1994 earthquake to make some repairs. I paid him for 10 six-panel doors, and I never got them.”
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Back at home, I quickly did a count. Yep, 10 six-panel doors. I had the stranger’s doors!
Because Oregonians tend to plan a lot of home improvement projects during the warmer months of summer, the state Construction Contractors Board recently issued a series of tips to avoid paying for a shady contractor’s personal upgrades.
The agency notes — and those of you who are retired, work from home or are stay-at-home parents know this to be true — many home improvement scams start with a door-to-door solicitor who offers to sell home improvement services and requests access to your house.
“They may want to see your roof or crawl space. Or they may show you leftover paving materials and ask to repave your driveway at a discounted rate. That’s a red flag,” Vena Swanson, enforcement manager at Construction Contractors Board, said in a statement.
She recommends against letting strangers into your house or taking pictures of your home without your permission.
Many home improvement scams follow a formula, and can be identified by tell-tale signs:
- Door-to-door solicitors often ask for access to the house (roof, attic, crawl space, etc.), then offer to make immediate repairs.
- They may show the homeowner pictures of damage after gaining access to the house.
- They may say they have leftover materials from a previous job, allowing them to do the work for a very low cost.
- Solicitors (door-to-door or phone) often offer limited time deals and/or in-house financing.
Do your homework
“As always, it’s important to check the license,” Swanson said. The Construction Contractors Board offers an online license search feature so homeowners can verify a contractor’s license is active.
They can also look up 10 years of history on any contractor’s license, including complaints and disciplinary actions, helping homeowners make an informed decision.
The Construction Contractors Board also recommends:
- Get a contract: Contracts are required for jobs over $2,000, but recommends getting a contract for jobs of all prices.
- Check references: “Ask lots of questions,” Swanson said. “By checking references, you come to know other people’s firsthand experience.”
- Vet multiple contractors: Research at least three contractors for large home improvement projects. Meeting with multiple contractors puts the job into perspective by allowing you to compare prices, timelines and more.
How to check the license
To verify the contractor has an active license:
- Visit www.oregon.gov/ccb.
- Click on the link at the top of the page that says “contractor search,” or click on the orange “search here” button in the middle of the page.
- Enter the license number or name, then click the “search” button
- Verify that the license is active. Click into the record to see that the contractor carries the endorsement for residential work, and that the name and other information on the license matches the contractor you are considering.
If you need help searching or understanding the results, call the Construction Contractors Board at 503-378-4621.
Swanson offers this warning: “If you didn’t take the time to plan a project properly, don’t do it. No matter how convincing or how tempting a home improvement may sound, if you don’t have the planning done and the money set aside, don’t do it.”