News10 Investigation: How to avoid hiring a bad contractor

What happens when you hire a personal contractor to do work on your house and the job is poorly done? Plenty of homeowners have found themselves in that situation.

So News10 investigated how you can avoid contracting nightmares. And it turns out there are some pretty simple red flags to look out for that could save you thousands of dollars.

Gloria Carlson just had her midtown Sacramento home repainted. She says the contractor who did it this time did a perfect job. It's exactly how she wanted it to look. But she says she learned a hard lesson from the previous contractor, and it's a phrase you have likely heard before: If the price seems too good to be true, then it probably is.

Before having her home repainted in late March, Carlson found herself in a bad situation. She had hired a painting contractor for what seemed like a really good price. She was left with immediate regrets.

Carlson's contracting nightmare began when she decided it was time to try and sell her home. An appraiser suggested she get a new paint job for the 1906 home to increase its value. That's when she found the cheap contractor and hired him to give the house a facelift.

"I went ahead and paid him, and then I started looking a little more closely and thought, oh my, this is not good at all." Carlson said. "This house looks like it was painted 20 years ago.

"It would have been better to just leave the original color on than what's on there now."

Carlson paid the contractor $1,795 to paint the entire house. Rick Davis, owner of Four Seasons Painting, stopped by to appraise her house and told her that the paint job should have cost her three times that amount. Carlson found herself in a financial hole with a house she couldn't even try to sell until it was repainted.

Melanie Bedwell, with the state Contractors State License Board, says Carlson had a red flag right in front of her.

"If you should find that one of the bids is extremely low, that should be a caution flag for you." Bedwell said.

She says homeowners looking to hire private contractors also need to invest time in background checks.

"You want to make sure you've checked everything about that individual beforehand -- maybe check with friends and neighbors who have hired the person before you lay some money down," Bedwell advised.

"I think the one mistake I made was to not get references," Carlson said..

Bedwell says before hiring a private contractor, you should get at least three bids. Create a written contract before work even begins. Make sure it includes the price, the dates the job will start and end, details of the project including your expectations, and who will be working the job. Make sure both of you sign that agreement beforehand. Never pay more than 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less. Do not pay in cash. Don't make a final payment until you are satisfied with the job.

Also, don't pay a contractor in cash for supplies up front. Bedwell says if the job is under $500, the contractor should be able to give you an estimate, purchase the supplies himself, and have you reimburse him after seeing the receipts.

For Carlson, it' was a hard lesson learned. But she hopes other homeowners will learn from her mistake.

"You should get references and check them out very carefully," Carlson said.

Her new paint job cost her close to $3,000.

The contractor Carlson hired for the previous job declined requests for an interview. He did say he reimbursed Carlson's initial payment. But she says that didn't happen, and that she had to actually file a dispute with her credit card company to freeze the entire payment.

One useful website you can use is checkthelicensefirst.com, and there you can do a more thorough background check on the contractor you are considering.


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