So you finally got around to that big home improvement project, and you found the perfect contractor, or so you thought. Unfortunately, now the project is paid for, and it might even be started, but they aren’t showing up to work, and the contractor won’t call you back. What’s going on? Is this normal behavior, and most importantly, are you being scammed? No one wants to believe that their money was stolen, but it can happen. However, there are some other reasons why contractors might not be calling back, so don’t panic. I’ll walk you through the steps to handle a missing contractor and offer some great advice for spotting a bad contractor in advance. You don’t have to take this lying down, and I’ll help you figure out the next steps and help you avoid it in the future.
Why don’t contractors call me back? Contractors don’t call back because they can’t or won’t finish the job in a timely manner, if at all. Although some contractors may have legitimate problems, the contractor who disappears without finishing and won’t take calls is a frequent enough occurrence that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Remain polite and firm on the phone, even when it’s just voicemail, and take steps to remedy the issue as soon as possible.
Why Don’t Contractors Call Me Back?
If you find yourself calling a contractor you’ve paid and wondering why your contractors don’t call back, you are not alone. This problem occurs with upsetting frequency. Before we look at the practical solutions, let’s take a look at why this happens.
First, there are genuine problems. While it’s less likely, a contractor may be ill, hurt, or even have a totaled vehicle and lost phone. In these cases, they will often get back to you as soon as possible to explain what happened and adjust the schedule accordingly. After all, paid or not, a person who is in the hospital will not be able to come to work today, and that’s a very reasonable expectation. Contractors are people, and they have all the same issues as anyone else, so be kind if this happens, but also get a firm commitment as to when they will return to work or give your money back.
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The second reason they may not return a call is somewhat less legit, but not the worst-case scenario either. A contractor may have overbooked their schedule out of overconfidence or lack of experience. In this case, you need to be firm when you get ahold of them and be absolutely clear about your expectations. If they cannot do the job they accepted in the timeframe they agreed to, then they are violating the contract. You should ensure you always have a contract with specific language providing for everything such as timeframe, communication, and other common-sense necessities.
Lastly and worst, contractors may take the money and run. Please understand, the vast majority of contractors are good, capable people, just as you’d find in other professions. That said, there are always a few ‘bad eggs.’ If the contractor does not contact you and doesn’t show up, you can take legal steps to remedy the situation. Next, I’ll explain how to handle a missing (bad-faith) contractor from the moment they disappear.
What To Do If Your Contractor Skips Out Without Finishing
For this article, we will assume that you are a good, upstanding client who has done no wrong. Contractors don’t call back despite the fact that you have a clear written agreement, which you have a copy of on hand, and you have not violated the terms. Furthermore, you have stayed out of the way and kept members of your house, including pets, from endangering the workers, and you have been polite.
Most importantly, you have paid on time. In short, your contractor is completely at fault in this scenario. Below are the steps to handle a contractor who doesn’t call back.
- Call your contractor regularly, and keep the phone records. Make sure any communication, such as text or messages, remain professional and civil. Do not threaten them, curse at them, harass them or otherwise become the bad-guy. One call or text per day to find out what happened is more than enough.
- If they have a business email, send something polite and professional in writing. Keep a copy for yourself. Inquire whether they are incapacitated in some way, and request contact as soon as possible.
- Send a certified letter to their place of business. You may wish to have a lawyer draft the letter or use a preformatted version from a legal website. Check your state and local laws for the timeframe on sending this, but a week or so is generally more than long enough to wait. Stay professional, and let them know that you are contacting them because they have violated the spirit and letter of the agreement, and you are notifying them that you are canceling the contract. Insist that they return your money within a few business days. Do not add an ‘or else’ or say you will take legal action unless a lawyer advises you specifically to add those words.
- Reach out and speak out. Leave reviews at the BBB, Angie’s List, and anywhere else this business is listed. Not only will this show that you are serious, but it will also help prevent others from falling into the same scenario with this contractor in the future.
- Talk to the licensing board. You may be able to have their license revoked if they refuse to return your money and they didn’t do the job. At the very least, you can file a formal complaint.
- Get a good lawyer. You can take a bad contractor to court. However, you will need all the appropriate documentation if you want to win. Legal fees and the time it takes, plus whatever you’re paying a new contractor to finish the job, should all be documented along with everything listed above.
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Warning Signs of a Bad Contractor
A good contractor can be hard to find. Before you ever get to the point where you have to ask, “Why won’t my contractor call me back?” it helps to watch out for warning signs that you’re not dealing with a straightforward individual. Make sure to look out for red flags and always check their license, Better Busines Bureau standings, online ratings, project samples, and references.
Your contractor should be easy to talk to and get ahold of. If they are late for meetings, reluctant to give information, won’t commit, or merely possess bad social skills, they may not be on the level. Their job is to build things, but it is also to put clients at ease by being upfront about everything to get the job. When your potential contractor makes excuses or avoids answering questions, you should consider hiring someone else.
Watch out for anyone who doesn’t want a contract. Additionally, once you have a contract, it should have pricing listed clearly. If they try to raise the prices, you need a structure to handle this, not an unexpectedly high bill you never agreed to. Similarly, make sure they’re upfront about who they are bringing to the job and do not accept random substitutes.
The contractor should not ask to only communicate via phone. Get their email, business address, and schedule in-person meetings with them. If they notably lack enthusiasm, find someone who wants the job. However, don’t accept a bunch of verbal assurances and promises. Stick to contractors who will happily put it all in writing.
You may need to wait to begin your project, but that is actually a positive sign. When a contractor wants the job but insists on completing other work first, they are clearly doing their best to manage their time properly, and they care about deadlines. When you take the time to verify their work and communicate well, show enthusiasm and commitment, you are looking at a contractor who knows their business, and it’s worth waiting a few weeks to work with them.
When your contractor takes the money and then doesn’t call you back, it’s a serious problem. Moreover, though it’s not uncommon, there is still plenty you can do to resolve the issue. Please do not do anything hasty, like calling them in tears or leaving furious messages. It won’t help and might hurt your chances of a clean resolution later.
Always insist on a clear contract. You need to specify the amount you will pay, what needs to get done, the timeframe, and who is responsible for parts. Additionally, put in a termination clause for lack of communication, failure to meet deadlines, missing work, and shoddy work. The better your contract, the more legal footing you have if something goes south. Never skip the contract.
There is no reason to hire a sub-par contractor, and if you have already done so, you should pursue getting your money back expediently. Document everything and always check their references.