Putting a new roof on your home is a big deal. Choosing a roofer is probably the most important decision you can make in the process. Just like in any industry, there are things that happen in the roofing world that sheds a bad light on some of our fellow roofers. In an effort to help you make a wise choice on a big investment for your home, we’ve put together a list of 10 secrets that some roofers wouldn’t want you to know.
1. They aren’t a local company.
When you put a new roof on your house, choosing a local contractor is always a smart move. You want to know that they will be around if something were to go wrong. There are a lot of companies that will pop up after a large storm, claiming to be from your area. Often times, these companies will pull some pretty slick moves to make it appear that they are a hometown team – including purchasing pre-paid cell phones so that they have a local phone number. However, with a little bit of research, you can find out if the company you are dealing with is who they say they are.
First of all, have you heard of this company? Most of the time, if you are familiar with the company it is a good sign they are from your local area. There are times when this rule doesn’t help you much (which we will cover later) but this is a pretty good place to start. Second, be observant, this simple step can save you in the long run. Take notice of their phone numbers and fax numbers – if you don’t recognize the area code, you might have a problem. As we mentioned, these guys will often buy a temporary phone to avoid suspicion so another item to check on is their license plates. If you see out of state plates or addresses on their paperwork it may be time to ask a few more questions of your contractor. A quick Google search can be very enlightening as well. If you are really adventurous, stop by their office and say hello.
2. Online reviews may tell you more than they’d like to admit.
Many roofing companies have a presence online. It is a major source of business that most companies are taking advantage of. A lot of contractors will do their best to hide their deficiencies in their sales pitch to you, but one thing they can’t fake is the experience of previous customers. Getting a positive review online can be fairly difficult. When you do the job you promised, the customer isn’t very surprised – it is what they expected. However, when a customer has a negative experience, they can’t wait to tell the world.
A great way to check up on the contractor you are considering is to see what people are saying about them online. Anyone can cherry pick the good reviews and feature them on their website, so you’ll have to dig a little deeper. There are a few places to start your search. Check the companies profile on Facebook. Customers can communicate directly with the contractor and write reviews directly on the contractor’s company page. A Google business page is another great spot to see what people really think about their experience. Other great avenues to take a look are sites like Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau. These organization’s only job is to report on service providers and to help you as a customer make a good choice. Take note – just because a company has a negative review doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do business with them. We all know that some people will not be satisfied no matter how well you perform. Look at their overall rating, and see how the company responds to negative reviews. Are they combative and hostile or do they try to reach a resolution with the unhappy customer?
3. There is a big difference between a “Chuck in a truck” and a reputable roofing company.
Like we mentioned earlier, nothing brings shady contractors out of the woodwork quite like a big storm in your neighborhood. After some significant wind or hail storms, some unscrupulous characters will start knocking on doors up and down your street. These “Chuck in a truck” contractors are the guys we hear horror stories about in the roofing industry. They will knock on your door, have you sign a contract, put a deposit down and you’ll never see them again.
This may be the easiest dirty little secret to avoid. It may go without saying, but you should always trust your gut when you meet a guy like this. Here are a few key things to keep an eye on. What are they wearing? Did they show up to your home in ratty, dirty clothes? Are they clean shaven and well groomed? Did they show up to your home in a beat up old truck? Remember, if they aren’t a professional at your front door, they certainly won’t be a professional on your roof. These are the guys that will have a cigarette hanging out of their mouth and cursing while they are trying to convince you they are the right choice to replace your roof. Their price may sound good, but buyer beware…these contractors are the type that may just be trying to pull a fast one.
4. They are making money on more than your roof.
A lot of roofing companies are looking for extra ways to make money on your job. Some of those ways are totally legit and others aren’t. Either way, the responsibility is on you as the customer to watch out for yourself. One of the ways that some contractors make extra money is through the financing of your project. When the customer is unable to produce the money for this expensive and necessary improvement some contractors will offer financing for the job. We aren’t saying there is anything wrong with financing, but the problems arise when these companies offer that option in dishonest ways. We see a lot of companies charging outrageous rates or partnering up with some shady finance companies. Customers often find themselves in unreasonable situations because they decided to finance the work through the same company that is completing the work.
To avoid a sticky financial situation, make sure that when you decide to finance your job you choose a lending institution you are comfortable with. Make sure you ask lots of questions of your contractor about the financing options. If they don’t have the answers you are looking for, insist on talking to someone at the lending institution. If you really want to see a shady contractor squirm, ask them if they are getting kickbacks on your loan. Sometimes, it is just best to go with a third party. Many contractors will offer programs that partner with a third party and encourage you to deal directly with them. Always remember, you are never required to choose a particular loan or financial institution so make a choice you are confident in.
5. They are padding their margins by cutting corners on your roofing materials.
Many contractors will mention roofing material companies that you are familiar with like Owens Corning, CertainTeed, GAF among others. When you choose your shingle color and style, they will be displayed on sample boards that proudly display these upstanding company names. The problem arises when you start digging into the other products that will be used on your roof. Some roofers will tell you they are using exclusively one brand, for example Owens Corning, and you will probably see OC shingles loaded on your roof, but that is one of many products that make your roofing system complete. To put more money in their pockets some roofers use contractor grade felt underlayment or the wrong type of shingle on the hips and ridges of your roof. Some will intentionally not install enough vents to save on their costs or charge you for products they didn’t install. This can cause more issues than you might think. When a complete roofing system is not installed correctly, it can have a major impact on your product warranty. Some roofing material companies will not extend a warranty on their shingles when another brand of felt underlayment is used, or if the roof installed without the proper ventilation.
Make sure you stay on top of all the paperwork and materials list for your roof install. Most material companies post the warranty requirements on their websites. Check your material list against the warranty requirements and make sure everything is there. Typically, the materials will arrive to your home before the contractor does, there is no harm in double checking the products you are paying for. A good contractor will never mind a customer who asks questions because they will have nothing to hide.
6. They aren’t certified to install your roof.
Many leading shingle manufacturers provide training and certification programs for roofers to learn how to install their products correctly. These programs ensure you, the customer, that your contractor is trusted by the manufacturer to do the job correctly. Oftentimes, contractors are given a rating by the manufacturer to show their level of proficiency. With some companies, a higher rating for the contractor means a better warranty for you.
When choosing a contractor, ask about their manufacturer ratings. “Are you a preferred contractor with CertainTeed?” “What type of product warranties do you offer for Owens Corning products?” These questions will give you some quick insight to their product knowledge. You can also find a great deal of information on the manufactures sites. For example, Owens Corning has a database that you can search their preferred contractors. Do the research, find out who you are doing business with. It will always pay off for you in the end.
7. They aren’t a licensed company or they are using someone else’s license.
Typical “storm chasing” companies will follow the storms wherever they lead, even if it is out of state. When these companies show up to your home, that usually means they aren’t licensed to work in your neighborhood. Sometimes they will try to get around this rule and use the license number of another company in your area. They give a percentage of their jobs to the local company and are able to cash in on the storm damage. The problem with this is after your roof has been installed. If there is an issue, good luck getting a contractor from out of state to fix it after they’ve gone back to wherever they came from.
Make sure you know who you are dealing with. Ask to see their state license numbers. Every legit company must be licensed with the state, ask to see their license number. If you are really concerned, look them up with the governing body in your state. When you work with a local contractor, you are not only keeping your money in the local economy, you are also making sure there is someone in your community that will help you if you ever have an issue.
8. They are ripping off your insurance company
This is a big one. In order to understand it fully, we have to give brief overview of the insurance claim process. When a homeowner believes they have received damage to their home or business as a result of wind, hail or other storm related forces the first step is usually to call their insurance agent. Most insurance companies will refer the homeowner to a contractor to inspect the damage before calling in the insurance adjuster. Side Note: Some insurance companies will apply a claim to your policy if an adjuster is called out – whether or not there is sustained damage. Often, on the recommendation of the contractor, the home or business owner will file a claim with their insurance agent for the damages. At that point, an insurance adjuster will come to the home or business to assess the damages, and decide what the insurance company will cover. The amount of pay out on the damages is often heavily influenced by the estimate provided by the contractor. Sometimes, the home or business owner is asked to turn in the estimate provided by the contractor and the insurance company will pay exactly that bill.
So the question is, how is your contractor ripping off your insurance company? Many contractors will pad the estimate with products and add ons they won’t actually provide. They will charge the insurance company for things you don’t need or just simply don’t do in order to get extra money for your job. Some will tell you they need to do things in order to meet code, when the code doesn’t require it. These contractors will sometimes bid your job with premium products that cost extra and actually install contractor grade products while pocketing the difference. Many of these practices are tantamount to insurance fraud, but because these things are often too hard to catch they go unpunished. We have also seen some contractors involve unwitting homeowners into their scheme. It is common for them to ask the homeowner to submit paperwork to their insurance company with one total declared, but ask them to sign a contract with them for a different total and promise to split the difference. Under the guise of putting a little money back into the customer’s pocket, they have just agreed with the customer to commit insurance fraud.
By now, this is probably sounding a bit redundant, but the best thing you can do is know who you are dealing with. Problems like these will most likely be highlighted in online reviews. Check Facebook, Google Reviews, Angie’s List, Home Advisor, the Better Business Bureau or another among many online sources that provide feedback on contractors. Make sure you are involved in your claim process – Some contractors will try and act as your advocate in order to make the claims process easier for you. It may seem like there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this, but in many states – like Missouri – it is illegal to represent a customer with the insurance company without public adjuster license. (Look up Missouri Senate Bill 101 if you want more detail). Most dishonest contractors are banking on the customer being unaware, so get informed. Trust your insurance agent – Many agents are leery of referring a roofing contractor because of the kinds of shady practices we’ve been talking about. However, your insurance agent has been in this business and probably knows the contractors you should do business with and more importantly, the ones you should avoid. When it comes to having storm damage repaired, another good source of information are your neighbors. If you see a yard sign in a neighbors yard, ask them about their experience. A good referral is often the source of a great business relationship, on the other hand…no news travels as fast as bad news. If your neighbors had a bad experience, they will be sure to let you know about it.
9. They aren’t installing your roof according to code
Many towns and municipalities have their own building codes that should be followed for any major construction project, including a roof replacement. Because shady contractors will do almost anything they can to save money, including the avoidance of paying for permits with the local building inspectors, your job may not be up to code. Some contractors don’t declare the work they are doing to the local authorities which means they aren’t accountable to the rules and regulations established by your community government. This may seem like they are just avoiding some red tape and saving you a bit on the final bill, but it can have some major negative consequences on you. Building code, while sometimes a bit cumbersome, is meant to protect the community from future safety or workmanship issues. By having the work inspected, the contractor is opening themselves up to the criticism of a third party. These inspectors are trained to find workmanship issues, faulty construction products and a host of other issues. Some customers prefer to try and avoid building permits, but it usually comes back to bite them, especially when they try to sell their house. Inspectors are also involved in the transactions of home purchases, which means if you are trying to sell your home and your roof hasn’t been installed to code, you could be on the line for getting it fixed before you can sell your house.
It is always better to follow the rules, so that you don’t have to face the consequences in the end. It may cost you a bit more money and a few more headaches, but just remember that it is all in the name of safety. Insist to your contractor that you want things done to code. Make sure the permits are included in the estimate and that your contractor is aware and following all of the necessary requirements for you project.
10. They aren’t on the hook for anything.
One of the most common secrets your contractor doesn’t want you to know is they aren’t on the hook for anything. Let’s imagine for a minute that you hired a carpenter to build you a desk. You and your carpenter talk about the design of the desk, the type of wood, how long it will take to build and how much it will cost. You agree on the design, scope of work and price and the carpenter gets to work. He delivers the product and it looks right, but after a couple of weeks, the drawers won’t stay in, the legs keep falling off and it is obvious the level of workmanship does not meet your expectations. You call the carpenter and detail your complaints…his answer, “Your warranty does not cover workmanship, just the wood itself. If you want me to come fix my mistakes, you’ll have to pay me again.” It is probably safe to say you would be outraged, right? Well this scenario happens all the time with roofing contractors. They do not, in any way, cover the workmanship of your new roof. Most will offer you product warranty, but that is actually provided by the product manufacturer. If your new roof has a leak 4 months after installation, and that leak is a result of faulty workmanship, you are on your own.
It is so important to know what you are buying, that includes the warranty. Ask detailed questions about what the warranty actually covers. For example, “Is workmanship covered in the warranty?” Often times the answer will be, “no.” That should be a red flag. In what other industry would you do business with someone that refuses to stand behind their work? Make sure you have a warranty in writing, before you deliver final payment for your roof. Push for what you want to have covered. Remember to ask for what you believe is fair, but if you wait until after the job is done, it’s too late.
Finding the right contractor is worth the work
When it is time to put a new roof on your home or business, you want to use a contractor you can trust. It is unfortunate the roofing industry has earned such a poor reputation, but there are good local contractors out there. Like in every industry, there are people who work hard, do things the right way and honor their word – there are also people who will lie, cheat and sometimes steal to get an advantage. As we have already said, it is important to know who you are doing business with. When you choose a contractor to work on your house or business, you are entrusting them with your largest investment. You need to know they will take care of your home or business the same way they would want someone to take care of theirs. Sometimes it can be difficult to see through all of the slick sales pitches and lofty promises of the shady contractor, but it is important to ask difficult questions and make sure you are getting what you have been promised. Hopefully, we have equipped you to see through some of the ruses used by these unscrupulous characters so you are able to make a decision you can be confident in.