Hiring a Fence Contractor. Tips to Protect Yourself from Scammers.

It's inevitable.  Every time there's a slowdown in the economy, or a natural disaster, the number of people looking to take advantage of others seems to increase exponentially.  Lately, we've been reading a lot of stories about criminals posing as legitimate contractors, taking payment for fence installations, and then never showing up to do the work.  The vast majority of contractors are honest, hard working people just trying to make a living; but, just like in any industry, a few bad seeds make life harder for the rest.

Photo from istockphoto.com.
That's why its so important to know who you're hiring and to take steps, like the following, to minimize your risk. 
  1. Ask for proof of insurace - Liability and workers comp. insurance are required for any above-board contracting company.  If the contractor doesn't have workers comp insurance, you could be liable for any injuries that happen to them or their crew.
  2. Never pay in full up front.  In fact, if you're contractor suggests this...Run!  But, it is common for contractors to ask for half up front and the remainder on completion.  They do this because the materials are usually half the cost of installation and they figure that if you stiff them, at least they can cover that expense.  Depending on the contractor, you may be able to negotiate that down to 1/4 up front.  Remember, the less you pay at the beginning, the less risk is involved for you.  However, don't pass on a well respected contractor just because they ask for half up front. 
  3. The best way to find a great fence installer, or any contractor for that matter, is to get a referral from friends and family, or find them through an online review site like angieslist.com or localpages.com.  Often the best contractors don't have big sales teams or spend thousands on flashy advertisements;  they know their work speaks for itself and a steady flow of referral traffic keeps them busy. 
  4. Buy your materials separately.  If your contractor is demanding half up front, order your materials online and have them delivered to your home, so that you are only handing over half of the labor costs.  But be careful, some contractors won't install materials that you haven't purchased directly from them.
  5. Don't automatically choose the least expensive estimate.  Grandma always said that "you get what you pay for".  Often, the contractors that give the lowest estimates are able to do so for a reason.  Either they are using inferior materials, cutting corners in the installation, or lack experience and are trying to build a reputation.  Every once in a while, you get lucky and find a great contractor at the best price.  Just make sure that you've done your homework first.

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