Be Savvy: How to Avoid Bad Contractors

by Chris Bjorklund

It’s tempting to hire a contractor that you see working in your neighborhood. I recently noticed a company’s truck at three different houses near me and casually asked the supervisor if they trim trees or do concrete work. Right away, the “tree guy” gave me a bid of $800 to prune a large Japanese maple, and within minutes he offered a $100 discount because I was in their service area. The next day, their “concrete guy” made an estimate for $12,000 with no mention of permits or a written contract.


While I was eager to get going on these projects, I decided not to rush into anything. I knew it was important to do some homework on the company and get more estimates.


Reading reviews can be helpful, but you should be wary of companies with zero or bad reviews. Neighbors and friends may be useful references. Of course, you can always check the Diamond Certified Directory for local, top rated contractors.


When looking for a company, watch out for red flags like extremely low estimates, no mention of permits, vague contracts, no contractor’s license number, no proof of insurance, and requests for large down payments.


The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) offers 10 tips to use when hiring to make sure the company measures up—you can find them here. By the way, I’m still shopping for a certified arborist for my maple and reviewing estimates for expanding my driveway.