Local Voices: Inside tips on avoiding home improvement scams

By Jack Firneno
Wire Editor

As the weather warms up and people start receiving income tax returns, general contractors start getting more work. The problem is, not all can or will do what they promise, even after they’ve taken your money.

Gary Selleck, president of C&C Roofing, is a licensed, insured and reputable contractor with close to 25 years of experience in Bucks and Montgomery counties. His consumer ratings say he’s one of the best — but he’s also seen the worst. Fortunately, he’s got some tips on how to make sure you don’t get roped in by a flake or a fraud.

Do your homework

It’s important for a consumer to research a potential contractor. And, that means more than just checking a company’s rating on the Better Business Bureau — although the BBB is a good starting place.

Check online review sites like Angie’s List, suggested Selleck, and call your local officials. “The township is always the first to hear about a problem,” he said. Township officials can’t recommend people, Selleck pointed out, “But they can tell you who the bad guys are and the guys that haven’t had any problems.”

Some other good indicators are a business that’s been around for at least 10 years, is licensed with the state and insured for workers’ compensation and general liability.

And, word-of-mouth is always a good way to find a reliable contractor. “That’s why we have lawn signs,” pointed out Selleck. “When our signs are all over the neighborhood, it shows everyone how good we are.”

Know where they’re from

Of course, the opposite of word-of-mouth is the cold call. And those are usually suspect. “It’s a red flag, no matter how good they make their deal sound,” said Selleck. “If they have to knock on doors for business, you should be leery.”

And, check out their truck when they come to work: if the company name is on magnets attached to the vehicle, that’s not a good sign.

“All our trucks, and anyone who’s serious in the business, will have the information in letters that do not come off,” said Selleck. “A magnet can come right off, and in ten minutes they’re a snow removal or landscaping company.”

You can also check to make sure they have the right gear: a roofing company without a ladder, for instance, isn’t going to be able to do a proper inspection of your roof without getting up there themselves.

“It’s like being a shoemaker without having the proper needles,” said Selleck.

Watch your wallet

As enticed as you may be to save as much money as possible, avoid the temptation to take the lowest bid. “Get a few quotes, and throw out the top and bottom ones,” Selleck suggested.

He actually learned this one from experience: years ago, he accepted the lowest figure to repave his driveway. And, he ended up doing what he’s seen some of his own customers do: go through the aggravation of having to have the work done twice to get it right — and pay for it both times.

“It’s the old saying: you get what you pay for,” he noted.

Of course, if you’re dealing with a reputable company, it’ll have a service department, which is something to look for. That part of the business will be there for you if there’s any problem after the job.

And, if all else fails, report them to the Attorney General’s Office, Better Business Bureau and your township. “If they care about their business,” said Selleck, “they’ll take care of it. They don’t want bad ratings.”