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Hiring a Contractor Without Getting Ripped Off.

Updated: Nov 14, 2020

With the pandemic many of us want to make our homes as comfortable as possible. As a Process Server, over the years I've located and served an elusive contractor here or there.. but since the pandemic, those numbers have exploded. In the last two months, I have had to find and serve 5 of the most unscrupulous "Contractors" I have ever encountered. My Client's had shoddy work, and were out money. Lots of money, and then faced with the enormous task of repairing or replacing the mess they now have and no idea where to start to get their money back. While I can always file, and then find these folks eventually, it can take a month or two and my client not only has to pay me, but $138 in filing costs, time lost from work, and in addition to the money they're already out more money to hire another Contractor. When I do find these pillars of the community, they always have some excuse about how my serving them is all a "big mistake", or how difficult my client was as their client. Why recently, I even had a Contractor Defendant deny he knew my client, and further was shocked that I had found him because he

" changed his Company name because people were threatening to sue him." ( I laughed a little in my head and thought to myself, " Yep, my client, the one you don't remember, is one of them. ") While hiring a Contractor can be a little daunting, it doesn't have to become a situation where you get hosed... By following some of my simple tips when hiring a Contractor, you can avoid having to hire me..

Chosing Your Contractor : Word of Mouth is great but a company that may not have had financial issues when your friend used them for his deck may now have issues when you need to remodel your kitchen.. Chose Top Reviewed Contractors on Google, Yelp, or even on Facebook and then… make your list.

Go to Department of Commerce and Insurance Website and Check Credentials: Just because they say they are licensed doesn’t mean they actually are. I recently had a Defendant that even had a fake Contractor's License Number on my Client's Receipt. The first thing I did upon their retaining me was to see if he was licensed ( most folks with Professional Licenses may not update their Driver's License, but by gosh, they'll keep that Professional license up to date and good address on file.) Now you can eliminate any of the ones that don't actually have a real license, and make your calls for estimates. To check your Contractor's License in Tennessee go to



2. Rough Out The Cost of Your Job:

If a gallon of paint covers 400 square feet, and you have 2000 square feet.. and a 5 gallon bucket of premium home interior paint is $170, a Painting Contractor telling you he can get your paint for half of that is probably full of beans. While as a Contractor he more than likely gets a discount, you can best believe he isn't getting it much more than 10- 15 % discount. Same with all other work materials too.

3. Beware of the Cheap Guy:

The old saying "you get what you pay for" is true when it comes to hiring a Contractor. If the really " honest sounding

and sincere guy" says he can do it cheaper than the most or even moderately expensive guy, chances are he is cutting corners or hiring sub- contractors that may or may not

getting paid themselves. Worse, he may

not be pulling permits that are required

say for a remodeling job.

4. Know the Difference Between Bonded

and Insured:

I hear folks in my own industry use

Bonded and Insured interchangeably.. and

they are two very different things.


Bonded means you are protected if the

contractor fails to complete a job, doesn’t

pay for permits, or fails to meet other

financial obligations, such as paying for

supplies or subcontractors or covering

damage that workers cause to your



Insured means your Contractor has liability

insurance if your property is damaged,

and has insurance including Worker's

Comp if their people get hurt on the job.

I have absolutely served cases where a

homeowner paid a Contractor to do

something and something inadvertently

got broken. One that stands out that was

really costly was a Homeowner that had

paid a Contractor who wasn't bonded to

put in new fencing. The Contractor came

out with a DitchWitch and cut the internet

line for the whole neighborhood and

subsequently was sued. The Homeowner

was sued for the cost to replace the lines by the Cable Company, and then had to sue the Contractor. I have also served at least 3 cases where a Contractor was

not insured. In one case a workman slipped on the edge of a new concrete pool. The workman broke his neck, back,

and jaw in the fall, and the Court decided

that ultimately the Homeowner was

responsible to pay his bills, lost wages, and the spectre of a big judgement that

will follow the Homeowner until it's satisfied. The Court's opinion was that the onus was on the Homeowner to make sure the Contractor was insured. Most

legitimate Contractors won't mind being asked to produce that documentation. If

they are upset or annoyed go elsewhere.


Writing any job up is always a good idea. It makes clear to the Contractor what you

expect in terms of job completion dates,

conditions how the the area is to be kept

during the job, rain delay policies etc.. As always if there is something you don't

understand or you are being asked to sign something you're not comfortable with, contact an Attorney to review it for you. Don't fall for the " well this is how its done

throughout the industry" line to pressure you to sign the Contract. Also if a Contractor

not willing to work with you, and reasonably agree to deadlines, WALK AWAY. Sometimes Contractors can't change the way something

is done due to codes or safety. Others times

however just because they want it done their way or the highway, or are desperate for the money will turn up the heat to get you to sign without someone else looking at it.. an attorney can help you determine if those terms and conditions are really true or not.


Most Reputable Contractors ask for some form of payment up front. A good rule of thumb is a payment of ⅓ of the job up front, or when the materials hit your driveway. Another ⅓ of the job

when your job is ½ finished, and the last ⅓ paid job completion, AND then ONLY when you are SATISFIED.This is the time that if you have any issues with the quality of work that was done, now is the time to register any complaints that you may have.

Remember there are a lot of Good Contractors out there doing good work. That workmanship comes with them also comes with waits for them to be able to get to your job, and then a reasonable amount of time for it to be completed properly. It's great to want to be benevolent and help a new Contractor just getting started, but new Contractor or not, they should be properly licensed, bonded, and insured. You absolutely should know where he is licensed and what companies hold those policies. Hopefully by following my tips, your next Contractor experience can be a great one and you'll never have a need to hire a Process Server, but if you have been the victim of an unscrupulous Contractor, I know a good Process Server to track them down and serve them so you can file suit. :)

Chris Wilkinson is the owner of Smoky Mountain Process and Legal Services in Knoxville, Tennessee. Covering Process, Court Filing, Mobile Notary, I-9 Verification, and Loan Closings throughout most of East Tennessee, Chris lives with her partner, and dogs on the Southside and enjoys College Football in her spare time. If you have a Mobile Notary, or Legal matter that you need served whether its a bad Contractor, Eviction, Divorce, Child Custody, or General Law Suits, Chris can be reached at 865-347-7967.

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