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Hiring a Qualified Contractor: 12 Tips & Warning Signs To Avoid Scams

Contractors working on a building

Spring is here, along with a surge in home improvement projects. Before you start building a new deck or garage, or changing water or electrical services, you first need a good contractor who will obtain the permits to get the process started.

“The City of Hilliard Building Division takes its job very seriously, and we’ll go the extra mile to help residents with their projects to keep everyone safe,” said Dan Ralley, Assistant City Manager and Community Development Director. “You don’t need to look far to find a quality contractor right here in Hilliard, but you also have to do your homework.”

Despite the hundreds of legitimate, ethical contractors in Hilliard and Central Ohio, there are also scam artists looking to cheat residents out of their money.

Here are some tips and warning signs to look out for when trying to find a qualified contractor:

Make sure they’re a licensed contractor with the State of Ohio.

All electricians, plumbers, and heating and cooling professionals are required to have a license with the state for the work they do at your house or business.      

Check to see if they’re registered with the City of Hilliard.

All professional contractors must fill out an annual registration application provided by the City and show proof of General Liability Insurance and their Ohio License and Certification.

Ask if they’re up-to-date on license and insurance.
Since contractors must present this information at the time of registration, they should have no problem showing you a copy. General Liability Insurance should cover a minimum of $300,000.

Protect yourself with a written contract or estimate.

Beware if a contractor tells you a contract is “not necessary.” Professionals have clear contracts that outline the job, process, and cost, and that helps clarify how potential problems will be managed. If you don’t have one, there’s no way to protect yourself in a bad situation.

Do not sign anything before you’ve hired them.
Too many people are willing to sign the dotted line without reading through the details of a contract. A scammer may want you to sign an “estimate” or “authorization” before they’ve done any of the work, when in actuality this could be a binding contract.

Never pay cash or provide payment in full before starting the job.
Shady contractors demand cash and then run with the money. A deposit toward materials is common, but only pay it once you have a contract signed by both you and the contractor. Also, be suspicious if you’re asked to pay cash to a salesperson instead of a check or money order to a company.

Lowest price doesn’t always equal best quality.
If a contractor vastly underbids all other contractors, look into it. Either they’re trying to disguise a good deal, or they may be cutting costs on quality materials, etc. The old adage “you get what you pay for” is often true, especially to avoid having the work redone.

Watch out for “special pricing” and “too-good-to-be-true” discounts.
Let’s be honest, only a select few of us win the lottery. If a contractor says you’ve been chosen for a special promotion and big discount and that you must sign the contract today, look out.

Ask for current references.
Word of mouth marketing is big in this industry. Professional contractors should have no problem in providing references from current and past clients. You should also be able to reach these people without going to voicemail every time. 

Don’t do the permit work for them.

Beware if a contractor asks you to go to the county or state offices to get the building or remodeling permits. This is part of their job and what you’re paying them for.

Ask contractors if they’ve obtained a permit.
For most projects, you will need a permit. So if the contractor insists you don’t need one, especially for a bigger project, you should look into it and double check with the City of Hilliard Building Division.

Follow up and keep in contact. They shouldn’t be hard to reach.
Professional contractors have a physical office, mailing address, phone, and email. They should respond to you in a timely manner. Make sure to verify their business address and beware if they only have a post office box.

Most people just want to jump right in and get started on a project. But your best bet is to take your time, do your research, and choose someone who’s reputable and that you’re comfortable with.

Do a quick scan of your local Better Business Bureau to make sure they don’t have a high number of complaints. A list of registered contractors is available by emailing

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