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Burned by a bad contractor?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 16, 2012 07:06 AM

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Check out the consumer complaint numbers for Massachusetts - home improvement contractors are No. 3.

Shocker!

Seriously though, there were 3,200 complaints about home improvement contractors last year, behind only auto insurance, which generated 8,300 complaints and health insurance, which weighed in with 6,500, the state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation reports.

One of the more eye-catching complaints to come to light is the case of a Watertown contractor who hired a contractor for $50,000 to shore up the retaining walls around his home.

The contractor got part way through, then vanished, leaving behind a pile of half-finished, shoddily performed work.

And that's clearly just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to complaints about contractors.

I had great luck with the contractor who built the addition on my Natick fixer-upper - it was on time, on budget and just what I expected and then some.

But he was also a friend of the family who lives around the corner - there is a high level of built-in accountability there. More importantly, he knew he was running a business and that reputation is all.

Unfortunately, he may also be more of the exception than the rule among home improvement contractors.

When you call someone out the book who you've never dealt with, it can definitely be more of a roll of the dice.

One major pattern with bad home contractors is that they take on jobs and then become scarce or disappear completely with the work half done.

My hunch is that a couple factors are to blame here.

First, like contractor hired in Watertown to shore up a foundation, some may simply get in over their head on jobs they are not expert enough to handle.

But I think the bigger problem is that some of these guys may be fine at what they do, whether it is hammering nails or pouring concrete, but haven't a clue how to run a small business.

To keep money coming in, you have to take multiple jobs. That's fine, but juggling a couple different clients requires some level of basic business skills. I am not talking about advanced accounting, but rather having the awareness that your job is not just to bang nails or pour concrete, but to keep your customers happy.

The fact is, word of mouth can help build a business and it can destroy it just as quickly.

Frankly, other than the few of us left working on factory floors, we are all in some way, shape or form in the service business these days.

So what's your nightmare home improvement tale?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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