How can the average Calgary homeowner avoid getting ripped off when it comes to hiring tradespeople? It’s an important question because it happens a little too frequently these days for anyone’s liking.

As much as those of us in the industry would like to deny that such things happen, the sad reality is we’ve heard the same stories you have about homeowners who get ripped off by unscrupulous tradespeople. Some are out and out dishonest, while others are incompetent, get in over their heads, and can’t make things right. Either way, it’s the homeowner who gets stuck holding the bag.

There are ways, however, to minimize the risk, so here are four tips for vetting any company you’re considering hiring to fix your home.

Don’t rely exclusively on a friend’s recommendation

Just because your best buddy or the girl friend you have coffee with every morning says “Joe Blow Home Renos” is the best company on the face of the Earth does not make it so. It’s a good starting place when evaluating a potential hire, that friendly recommendation from someone you trust, but it shouldn’t be your only consideration.

For instance, just because your friend was happy with the work, price, service, etc., does not mean you will be similarly pleased. Everyone has different levels of satisfaction, and what your friend might consider appropriate isn’t necessarily what you’d be willing to tolerate.

Get some details from your friend:

• How much was charged?

• What kind of service was provided? Did they show up on time, clean their boots, leave a mess?

• Did they behave professionally? Was the conversation appropriate?

• Did the person feel comfortable with the tradesperson?

You’d be surprised how a few simple questions like these can elicit more useful responses beyond, “Yeah, the guy was great.” Oh, and if you have the opportunity to inspect the work that was done, take it.

Check with the Better Business Bureau

That’s right. Once you’ve got a name, check with the Better Business Bureau. The BBB is a great tool. Use it! They keep information on all kinds of companies, and if you’re contemplating a particular company it’s a good idea to check their record.

A company with a lot of complaints over a relatively short period of time is a bad sign. Most people haven’t got the time or inclination to register complaints about insignificant factors concerning a job, even if they’re not super happy about the end result, so if a company is generating lots of traffic in the BBB complaints section it generally means it’s really ticking people off, and you should be very wary.

That said, one or two complaints do not a lousy company make. Just as most people can’t be bothered to register their displeasure over relatively insignificant factors, there are those who love to complain about everything.

If you notice a couple of complaints about a particular company, check into how those complaints were handled. A reputable company takes BBB complaints seriously, and will attempt to resolve the problem because it reflects badly on their operation. This does not mean that the complaint will always be resolved to the satisfaction of the customer, but you want to know that the company at least tried to work things out.

Check into online reviews about the company

This is similar to checking with the BBB, but instead of the information being filtered through an official agency, you’re checking with average homeowners just like yourself.

It’s not a surefire method, but if a company is generating a lot of negative reviews and very little in the way of positive material, chances are you want to steer clear. Just keep in mind that comments like, “This company sucks” aren’t really that helpful, so look for the ones where the reviewer has given some thought to what he or she is saying, then weigh the value of the comment against what you already know.

Ask lots of questions when you get a quote

A company that has nothing to hide will gladly answer any questions you might have. Admittedly some tradespeople have a bit of an attitude about answering questions, but a good one will have no problem ensuring you fully understand everything about the project, especially the cost.

By the time you’ve received a quote (preferably written), you should be very comfortable about what work is going to be done, and how much it will cost. Be very wary of the tradesperson who won’t answer your questions in a forthright manner, or who is vague about what work will be done. The word “shifty” comes to mind. Be equally alert, however, for the person who’s trying to “sell” you with a lot of bravado. The big talkers who don’t actually answer your questions are just as bad as the ones who seem like they’re ducking questions… they just sound more convincing.

Bottom line? This is not the time to let your intellect override your gut instinct. If you do not feel comfortable with a particular company or its representative, call someone else. This is especially true if you’re talking bigger, more expensive projects. You do not want to be kicking yourself a few weeks and several thousands of dollars down the road because you didn’t listen to your intuition.