Red Flags for Professionals


Working in the home improvement industry means being reliable and trustworthy. Building a good reputation is how you find more work, and keep clients coming back. Unfortunately, not everybody in the industry is as honest as our eLocal experts, and there are many professionals who cut corners or deliver sub-par work. Spotting these less than scrupulous professionals before working with them is a not only helpful, but necessary skill to have.

Why We’re Asking

The experts here on the eLocal Home Expert Network take their work, and client satisfaction, very seriously, and always try to deliver the best results possible. Part of knowing how to deliver excellent work is knowing how to spot when somebody’s work ethics aren’t up to par, especially when navigating professional relationships. We want to know what the red flags are for unprofessional behavior, and how homeowners can spot a professional who won’t do good work.

So tell us, experts:

What are red flags for a home improvement professional?

How can a homeowner spot an unprofessional business during the initial conversation?

What are your red flags when evaluating potential employees?

How about for potential business partners?

Like any industry, there are home improvement professionals who don’t take their work seriously, and think nothing of delivering sub-par projects. Knowing how to spot an unprofessional worker before hiring them can help both homeowners and industry professionals keep work standards high.

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!


  1. As a design professional, it is vital that the top contractors, sub-contractors, and vendors are a part of any project that we design. Just as it is important for our firm to not only be honest and the other traits expected of myself and anyone that works on behalf of my firm; it is equally important that anyone else no matter how small or how large of the project they will be working on. We meet and exceed our clients’ expectations at all stages of the project and can do so only by keeping our standards high and raise everyone up to meet those standards as well.

    As a potential client, here are a few things I would look for when interviewing anyone that will be working on your next dream project. First and most important, I would ask for references; not only from past clients but also current ones. Next, I would always meet the main person in charge; usually the General Contractor, along with asking for names and references from each of the sub-contractors that will be working on the project. Last, I would ask and almost require; if it is locally possible, to schedule a time to go by several completed projects similar to the project you are getting ready to start. These three things in addition to internet research, etc. are the key to starting a project on a successful note.

  2. Having been a Licensed Contractor about 40 yrs. I have not only been in partnerships, but had to deal with other tradspersons. No one thing should be over weighted in evaluation of anything, but some issues are screaming indicators. One area of indication is, the organization of the work vehicles. The tool boxes, the tools themselves. I will not work with a tradesperson who has a pickup truck piled up in back. Another big issue I know to be of value, is if the person has continued education. Plumbing is chock full of emerging technologies that require skills beyond just learning on the customers nickel. The certifications are normally from trade associations or mfgrs. Such participation is signature of excellence, and or proof of skills. I am not referring to marketing programs, not to knock them, but I am about trade skills, not sales. If a quality skill exist, the sales will follow, quality is rare. The minimum is what code requires, the optimum is my school of training….
    I try not to focus on things to be scared of, but instead what to look for, having said that, checking legal issues and crime history is becoming a pre requisite. So, it’s a given. I think the sales person is one thing and the person who comes to do the work is another. This point is attached to the entire staff. I as well do not feel it rude to ask to interview the workers first before contracting to have a project done! Meeting the team at the shop and seeing a mornings launching of crew is valuable in a real understanding of who they are. Does the company require drug testing of all personel ? Legal residence required?
    The standard brand name of plumbing fixtures is no guarantee of anything, nor is a “Lifetime warranty”, I offer a warranty that if ever it is clear that installation was not “best”, I warranty it. I as well include labor warranty to match all mfgr. time durations as well. If it was done correctly, time need not be a loop hole to liability. These are points that are more real than claims of name recognition. Most product failure that I see is either wrong application of the product, or poor installation. Back to continued education! Good communication is paramount, happy customers are a must. Is there a statement of promise to the customer ?

  3. This is a great question! After 15 years in the electrical service business, there is one question that I hear more often than any other; how much is it? I have probably heard that question a million times. Yet, I can count on my hand the number of times people asked to see a copy of my license or insurance. Even fewer customers ask for references, call my suppliers, or stop by the shop. Yet, every customer seems to have a horror story of the time they received bad service. Why, because the customer paid too much attention to the price and not enough attention to the product. This is an easy thing to do with service work because the product is not something you can hold in your hand or easy compare. Here are some warning signs that may help you avoid a lemon.

    My Prospective Contractor:
    1. Does not answer phone calls or returns phone calls late. If you have trouble getting a hold of a contractor before you hire them, imagine what it will be like if you have a problem.
    2. Dressed poorly during initial visit. This is a telltale sign that this contractor does not pay attention to details or cleanliness.
    3. Has a disorganized or dirty truck. If you see papers strewn all over the dash and cups falling out of the door, imagine what your job site will look like if you hire this guy.
    4. Is not wearing a company uniform or driving a clearly marked service vehicle. Side jobbers and handyman work out of unmarked trucks and wear no uniform. Professionals are hard to miss.
    5. Does not cover his shoes when he comes into your home. Shoe covers are a nickel a piece. If your contractor does not care enough about your floors to invest a nickel in shoe covers, keep looking.
    6. Does not provide a written copy of license and insurance. Professional electricians carry their credentials on every call. Ask to see them.
    7. Wants you to get the materials. This means he is stretched very thin financially and supply houses won’t give him credit. This is a very bad sign.
    8. Wants me to give a deposit before starting the work. Payment should be made upon completion.
    9. Workers are 1099 sub-contractors not W-2 employees. Make sure you know who you are actually hiring. If the contractor is not doing the work himself, the workers better be W-2 employees. Otherwise, you will need to interview and verify each subcontractor’s license, insurance, etc.
    10. The quote is significantly lower than the others. Did this contractor understand the scope of the job? What corners will be cut? Is this too good to be true?
    11. One quote is significantly higher than the others. Did you miss something? Did the other contractors miss something? Don’t throw this quote out until you know why it is higher.
    12. Does not have a good online reputation. These day having no positive reputation online is a very bad thing. A contractor should at bare minimum have 10-20 reviews on the major online ratings sites. If nobody knows this guy exist, there might be a problem.
    13. Has a PO Box or no address on his paper, website, or business cards. This means the contractor hiding from someone or is not stable. Established contractors put their physical address on their website and paperwork.
    14. Does not provide a written copy of the warranty. A verbal warranty often means no warranty.
    15. Steers you towards cheaper brands or options. Good contractors like installing high quality material. If you have a contractor that wants to use a cheap or knock-off product, be on guard.
    16. Is borrowing your tools. This is a very bad sign.
    17. Spend lots of time on the phone and not working. Is he learning on the job or does he have other things on his mind?
    18. Smokes, chews tobacco, or curses while at your home. Impolite contractors only get worse once the job gets going. If a contractor asks unprofessionally towards you, don’t expect his work to be better.
    19. Has a bad attitude. Don’t expect the work to be better than the attitude. Avoid unhappy contractors.
    20. Seems very busy or preoccupied. While a good contractor is generally busy, he must make time for you. Make sure you contractor makes you a priority from the beginning. If your low on the priority list, expect long delays and poor communication.

  4. As a homeowner I do lots of research before hiring anyone. So two of the biggest red flags are lack of a track record and lack of a business process. For the first one, I know that not everyone has joined in willingly in the electronic age, and not every business owner has a website. And this certainly doesn’t mean they are no good. But do everything you can to find information on the contractor before you hire them. And if you can’t find anything online, ask for a list of references. Otherwise you are taking a big risk of you can’t find a track record of good work.

    For the second red flag, you should get everything in writing before you start. While some old-timers might think their word is their bond, for you this is a surefire recipe for disaster. So you should get a initial quote in writing, and the project deliverables in writing once hired. No written contract, then run!

    Of course, use common sense too. If the contractor doesn’t show up on time for your first meeting, if they use language you usually only hear in a local bar, if if they don’t take their time to learn exactly what you want – all are red flags that you should move on to the next contractor.

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