The lowest of the low are the fly-by-night scammers who solicit a few hundred dollars for small jobs such as eavestrough cleaning or driveway sealing.
Deposits cashed for work that's never done and the failure to finish jobs are among the most common complaints filed about renovators.
Unsolicited roof repairs are another common ploy. “Someone comes by and says something like ‘I'm just in the neighbourhood doing roofing. I have stuff left over and it looks like your roof could use some work,'” explains Barbara Carter, national director of the community education program ABCs of Fraud, based in Toronto. “The guy will say ‘I'll give you a deal. All I need is $300 up front and I'll go get the materials.' They take that $300 and are never seen again.”
While you can never be entirely sure someone is on the up and up, there are steps you can take to reject the bad apples.
Finding the right contractor
For any renovation, large or small, you should get a minimum of three estimates. Word-of-mouth references are best-at least you'll know one satisfied customer. You should be wary of a jack of all trades (master of none) contractor. For a multi-faceted job, such as a kitchen or bathroom renovation, you ideally want to work with multiple subcontractors who specialize in trades like plumbing, wiring, tiling or drywall.
Ask for a detailed written estimate
(A number quickly scribbled on the back of a business card doesn't count), preferably on company stationery. The business information on it will help with background checks; the specifics will help you compare apples to apples. When getting an estimate for a deck, for example, make sure that all contractors price out using the same materials, size and a comparable layout. Query any who are significantly higher or lower than others for an explanation: What services and materials are they including or leaving out? Finally, don't make a choice based solely on the lowest price. Remember the old adage: If it sounds too good to be true, it most probably is.