Ask Angie

What happens when a contractor doesn’t show up?

Q. I gave a fencing contractor a $1,300 deposit on a $2,600 job. We signed a contract in June, and he emailed me that the job would commence the second week in August. It’s now late September and no work has been done. A few weeks ago, I emailed him and asked what was going on. He said he was backed up and would start work the next week. He never came. I joined Angie’s List after I hired him and was bummed to see that he had a D rating. What should I do?

John M., New Haven, Conn.

Unfortunately, we see situations like yours all too frequently. Many of our members do join after a bad experience with a contractor.

Your dilemma is no fun, I know, but it does allow me the opportunity to share what Angie’s List has learned about the best way to approach hiring a contractor.

In a nutshell, we recommend that consumers get at least three bids from contractors about whom they’ve heard or read good things from family, friends, neighbors or a trusted online review site. Going the extra step to get and contact references is also a good idea. In addition, ask for and confirm proof of insurance and any required licensing.

You should expect to get a detailed, written estimate. Any contract you sign should include a start date and estimated finish date, and should outline when payments are due.

We warn against paying too much upfront. Generally, a third of the full cost is the most you should provide as a down payment, and then only when the contractor has delivered the materials.

Some states prohibit contractors from requiring too much payment before the job begins. California, for example, requires that down payments not exceed 10 percent of the total cost of the project or a maximum of $1,000.

There’s no easy answer to what you should do regarding this particular fencing contractor. It depends on how much money and time you want to spend. You could contact him one more time, giving him a final chance to make things right by either finishing the job or giving you a full refund.

It’s entirely your call as to whether to pursue legal action. But our team often recommends that consumers who are unhappy with a contractor, and unable to find satisfaction on their own, contact their state attorney general or consumer protection office.

Good luck!

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