Maryland issues licenses for custom home builders and home improvement contractors alike. If you deal with a licensed contractor, there are state agencies and funds that can help you and insurance is required. The same can not be said for the unlicensed contractor.
The Far Lower Bid
This could be a sign that the contractor is inexperienced with the work scope, intends to use shoddy materials, or intends to find reasons to claim out-of-scope services.
No or Questionable References
Get references for the work actually being performed. Whether or not they were great at replacing windows has little to do with your bathroom renovation.
Desire to Avoid Permits
A) The homeowner is always liable.
B) Permits generally require compliance with "minimum" building standards. The operative word is "minimum." If your contractor is trying to avoid complying the minimum standards - you can't possibly expect quality work or quality materials.
C) You have a right to be present when the permit inspectors visit. You can learn a lot about how well your project is coming along at these meetings.
Desire to Avoid Contracts
A written contract is usually a legal requirement. Besides, there is a reason they are called contractors - the construction process relies on contracts.
Contract Requires More Than a 33% Deposit
A Maryland licensed Home Improvement Contractor can not charge more than a 33% Deposit. Look out for the 10% Deposit plus 33% due upon project start as well - that's a 43% Deposit.
If you are "getting a discount" because they over-ordered on a previous job, ask yourself if the items that were over-ordered make sense. Why would they have over-ordered windows? Shouldn't an experienced contractor know how many square feet of materials to order? You might be getting a discount, but you also might be getting substandard materials.
Absent or Late
Sometimes projects get delayed because of a shipping error and people do get sick, the test is how often.
"You don't want the County involved - do you?" "There's no time to get other estimates, this could collapse at any minute." It's your home, the decision of what to do and when should be yours.
Trust Your Gut
If you get a bad feeling, get help.
Additional resources provided by the author
While the above is a general listing of "red flags" some information contained herein is specific to home improvement law in the State of Maryland only. The Maryland Home Improvement Commission has up to date laws and regulations regarding the home improvement process in Maryland. Additional information can be found at these links:
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