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Customer service

The “Whoa!” contractor scam

If you’re like me, you’re wary of hiring contractors without a referral from a friend or relative. There’s a good reason to be wary. Many contractors try to extract as much money as possible from their customers, often in an unscrupulous way.

One of the most common scams is as follows. The victim will get an estimate for a job, often priced very fairly. The estimate can be a so-called flat rate, but with the provision that if there are any deviations from the agreed work, additional fees may apply. On the day of the job, the contractor will point out something “unexpected” to the victim. Usually this is done in a dramatic way, telling the customer something to the effect of “Whoa! You didn’t tell us you had <xyz>!” The contractor uses this as an excuse to jack up their fee.

The reality is that their “unexpected” finding is usually unremarkable and very much part of the job. As an example, on the day of an apartment move, the foreman pointed to my synthesizer gig case and said he would need to charge extra to transport it because it wasn’t a box. The gig case was essentially a fabric-covered box with handles on it. I told the moving company owner he can either honor our agreed upon fees or leave the job. He relented. (The owner should have been more concerned about hiring competent workers than nickel and diming customers. The team managed to drop my TV in their truck, destroying it.)

There are two ways to hire a contractor without getting taken for a ride: a guaranteed flat rate or work charged by the hour. You should never agree to an estimated flat rate. Get your guaranteed flat rate in writing.

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