While employing a contractor can feel risky at any age, it can be especially hard for a senior to hire a contractor. Because there is a perception that they are easy to scam, it’s important for loved ones to be especially careful of who is hired and vigilant throughout the process.

From high pressure tactics to trick a senior into paying for “emergency” repairs to taking money for a deposit and disappearing, home improvement scams cost older adults a lot of money. According to the FBI, fraud against seniors totals $3 billion in losses each year. Home repair and improvement scams account for much of it.

So, what can you do if an older adult in your family needs to hire a contractor? We have some safety tips you can use to protect them and their finances.

Screening and Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor

  • Be wary of door-to-door salesmen: Don’t hire anyone who shows up on the doorstep offering deep discounts because they are “working in the area.” This is one of the most common scams targeting older adults.
  • Know what you want: If you are seeking a contractor for renovation work, spend time listing what you want and need. Are you trying to make improvements for better resale value? Or modifications to keep the senior safer? Have a solid understanding of what you are looking for before meeting with contractors.
  • Ask trusted friends for referrals: The best way to find a contractor you can trust is through friends and family. Ask for the names of contractors they have actually used, not just people they know.
  • Check with the Agency on Aging: While they tend not to make recommendations, some local offices on aging do keep a list of senior-friendly contractors. That will at least give you a few to call as you begin the search. The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging allows you to search for an agency near your senior loved one’s home.
  • Get written quotes and proof of insurance: Whenever possible, have a second person available when the senior meets with each potential contractor. Having a second set of eyes and ears is invaluable. Ask each contractor to provide a written quote, copy of their contract, and proof of insurance. Also ask for a list of references.
  • Don’t pay upfront: Many contractors require a deposit, but you should never pay the full amount up front. That’s a red flag that the contractor may not be legitimate. If possible, pay by credit card. Doing so gives you some leverage if the project isn’t done correctly or if the contractor disappears. Most credit card companies will work with clients who file a dispute.
  • Never rush your decision: Take time to thoughtfully review estimates and check the contractor’s license, references, and proof of insurance. It is usually beneficial to check with the Better Business Bureau and read any online reviews you can find. Be wary if a contractor tries to convince you to use them with warnings about potential price increases or lack of availability.
  • Hold on to final payment: Finally, don’t agree to pay the final amount until you and the senior are satisfied with the work. It may be your only recourse for getting the contractor to fix anything you are unhappy with before they move on to a new project.

The AARP has a few templates you might find helpful, including one for interviewing contractors and another for checking references. You can download them at no cost.

Moving to an Assisted Living Community

If you are making home improvements in anticipation of your senior loved one moving to assisted living, you might be struggling to figure out your next steps. At Heritage Senior Communities, we understand the process can be overwhelming. 10 Tips for Downsizing and Moving a Senior Loved One might be of interest. It covers topics ranging from decluttering to staying organized.