9 Signs You Have Hired A Bad Contractor (Red Flags)

By Mike Holmes

Mike’s Advice / Home Safety & Maintenance

Thursday, October 15th, 2020 @ 11:24am

In the world of contracting, there’s the good, the bad and the ugly. In my opinion, about 20% of contractors are good. These contractors have licences, insurance, skill, experience and integrity and will make it right. They genuinely care about the work they do and the people it affects. These are the ones you want to hire, and they’re out there. I’ve met and hired many of these contractors.

Unfortunately, about 70% of contractors are bad, and another 10% are downright con artists. What’s the difference? Bad contractors don’t know any better, and they don’t care to learn how to do better. These are the contractors telling you that you don’t need permits or use your laundry basket as a garbage can.

But the ugly contractors — the con artists — they come in and take the most money they can get, doing the least amount of work, to the point where the work is not only bad, it’s downright dangerous. They take advantage of a homeowner’s lack of knowledge and leave them hanging. I’ve met some of these contractors as well. Scammers.

I’ve Seen It All

I’ve seen drywall screwed to ductwork, vapour barrier slashed across walls, nails driven through electrical wires — all on the same job. And so-called home improvement professionals do this. I’ve seen too many families devastated by bad renovations. I’ve FIXED these jobs with my crew. And I’m sick of coming across these stories.

Do you remember the Twice Done House in Holmes+Holmes? Poor Sara had every job in her house done more than once by contractors claiming to be “professionals”. And then there was Greg and Karen’s house. The contractor did sloppy work, left a mess everywhere, and even entered their home at 10pm using the key they’d provided. That’s crossing a line! At this point, I feel like I’ve seen it all.

Here are 9 red flags that you are working with a bad contractor.

9) They Ask For Cash

Beware of contractors who offer a discount if you pay them in cash or won’t provide a receipt, this is a common practice of fraudulent and contractors. Remember, cash is not traceable. Right from the start, this is a sign of a bad contractor. 

8) They Don’t Sign A Contract

A contractor isn’t a contract without a contract. It’s simple. In the event of an issue, documentation always wins. A good contract should have the payment schedules in there as well. The days of handshake contracts are OVER. You always want there to be a paper trail.

7) They Tell You That Permits Aren’t Needed

As a homeowner, it’s your job to ensure that you get the proper permits for any job. Without the proper permits, if the city gets wind of the work, you may be forced to take it down and start over.

Now, your contract may stipulate that the contractor will go to the city to get the right permits – and this is fine – but if they tell you permits are a cash grab, find a new contractor. 

6) They Try to Rush the Job

We all love our remodelling projects to move fast so we can start using that brand-new kitchen as soon as possible. But is the contractor rushing the job and skipping steps?

If you remember the City Barn from Holmes+Holmes, you  might remember it took us a long time to get permits, and then my son Mike Jr discovered bones in the basement, which halted our construction. The bones turned out to be animal bones, but the site had to be investigated. 

You know what we didn’t do? Rush to finish the job. Although it took a few months longer than anticipated to complete the job, we waited until it was safe for us to resume.



5) They Leave A Messy Job Site

Once work gets underway your contractor must keep safety in check. The job site must be kept clean and free of debris. They should also make sure floor surfaces are always safe and not slippery. Garbage should be kept out of walkways, stairs and traffic paths, as well.

All too often we hear about the horror stories of workers who don’t make it home at the end of the day. National Day of Mourning should serve as a reminder to all of us that job site accidents are far too common, and we need to make safety a priority. We must work hard to always keep the worksite clean.

4) No licence? No insurance? No way!

We all love a bargain. It’s what drives many people to get a “friend of a friend” to do a renovation. But just because it’s a friend doesn’t mean the rules get thrown out the window.

Some of the worst jobs I’ve seen were done by a “friend” of the homeowner. Always make sure whoever is doing the work has a licence and insurance coverage for their team. Remember, anything that happens on your property is your responsibility. You don’t want to be held liable because your contractor opted to forgo insurance to save a few bucks. 

3) They Don’t Wear Proper PPE

If your home is under renovation or construction, it’s considered a worksite. It might not be your job as a homeowner to be the safety officer, but you should be aware of the basics, because while your home is under renovation it’s considered a workplace.

 If you’re on the job site and you see that the team isn’t wearing proper gear – if an injury occurs this is another situation where you could be liable. Make sure your contractor has a health and safety policy.

2) They Ask For The Full Payment Upfront

Payment schedules should be tied to project milestones. If the contractor tells you that you need to pay the full amount upfront, I would run. Good contractors only require a deposit to secure their time and work.

I would also be concerned if the contractor is available to start work right away. If the start date sounds too good to be true, it’s a red flag that they are not busy.

1) They Have Changed Their Name Several Times

Bad contractors cover their tracks by changing company names. Ask the contractor how long they’ve been in business, then ask how long they’ve had their company. If the numbers don’t match up, ask why and do a corporate search.

Research the online reviews on social media. Check out jobs they have previously worked on, if possible. 


Do a background check on your contractor

At the end of the day, when you are interviewing a contractor and your gut says no, trust your instincts. Don’t let high pressure tactics get to you. It takes time to find the right contractor. You are the one who will have to fix the mess if you make the wrong choice.

Here is a guide to HOW TO HIRE A CONTRACTOR for your next remodelling or renovation job.

Make It Right®