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How to Find/Pick a Roofer/Roofing Company

Pick one of these to jump to a topic below or just read on for a thorough education.

You may think that because you picked a large company that you have a reliable company. Many businesses pull scams or just can't be fully honest. If you see a car for sale on TV and it looks like a great deal, is it? They will have on the bottom of the screen "see dealer for details". Why does there have to be hidden details? Why can't they just be honest and tell you how much the car cost. Why do they have to have print so small that you can't read it. They obviously know you can't read it so their intention is to make sure that you really don't get the information. The same thing goes on in roofing. It is my opinion that most advertising (for anything) is deceptive hoping to lure in unsuspecting consumers that don't realize the full cost of a product or service. Remember, the object of all advertising is to get the dollars from your pocket into their pocket. Below, I will go over major things to look for when trying to pick a roofer. Many of these pointers will apply to buying anything. I believe in "buyer beware" and believe that you need to do your homework before you can start blaming other people for getting ripped off.  

Where do you start looking?
You have two choices:
1. An advertisement
2. A recommendation from someone you know

It is imperative that you look for a recommendation. If you go for the ad you're just reading what they want to say to you and obviously the ad will say they're the best ones in the business at the cheapest price. Whoever does the best design work in the ad gets the call. But if none of your friends can recommend someone then that's the only other choice. But a recommendation is someone that your friend dealt with and has a history with that roofer. They can tell you if the roof is still in business or if the roofer came back if there was a problem.

Keep in mind that no matter what the roofer did it should hold up for a short period. The quality starts to show up if there are no problems for years. If someone gives you a name of a roofer that just did work for them a week ago you do not have any kind of track record. But this would still be something - it would be more than you would get out of an ad. At least in this case you can find out how the relationship was between the roofer and your friend. 

Get references? - maybe, maybe not
Remember, if you get references from the roofer he is the one supplying you the references. Obviously they are going to be good references. Even if he has a lot of unsatisfied customers he will have at least a few satisfied customers so those are the references you will get. Maybe his brother is one and his sister the other. If the roofer does a lot of work he should have a bunch...IN YOUR AREA! If he gives you a bunch but they're all 10 miles apart then he had to cover a large area to find you enough good ones. Maybe he recently started and does not have a lot yet. That would be OK as long as he's honest about it. You will have to decide if there are other good factors about him that make up for the fact that he is new.

Checking with authorities
There are several sources you could check with. The following are my experiences in Philadelphia. Your area might be different.

The first is the city or town. You might think that if the city keeps giving a company a license every year they must be OK. What a laugh. 

The city will never, ever take away a license. The only point to having a license is so the city knows what companies are out there to tax. In the early 90s the Feds shut down a large roofing company in what they said, "...was the largest fraud case in the eastern district of the U.S." The city never did anything all those years. I do not see as much of this in the Philadelphia suburbs. Getting a permit does nothing either. If the roofer gets a permit it is only to throw some extra money into the city's pocket. You will never see an inspector on a job to make sure a roof is being done properly. They will never show up.

The city does keep a website of all lawsuits of any kind. Click here to go to a search page and then you can pull up lawsuits. From this page you can either get a list of all the lawsuits ever against the company or look at only the outstanding judgments against them. Note: A lawsuit my not be under the name you know it as. Bob Smith roofing my have been sued under the corporate name. Go to the corporation section below to find that out.

The Better Business Bureau has problems too. I once called them and asked what they had on the above mentioned company in the early 90s. They told me they had no complaints. I told them that it was impossible since so many lawsuits have been filed at City Hall. They read me a summary of the company which I found out later is written by the company themselves and submitted to the BBB. Also, most of the financing the BBB receives comes from the businesses that join them so they have to be careful about going against any of their members. They are also afraid of being sued by companies that they give comments about so they are very leery about giving out negative information. They really are a lobby organization for businesses not for the public. They might not like what I have to say but when hundreds of lawsuits were filed for years in Philadelphia over that company (and the public knew it too) I was mad when they wouldn't tell me any negative information on the company. As far as I'm concerned they left the public to the wolves. They have a certain image that the public knows them by and if they can't keep that image then they should get out of the business of what they are doing.

More recently the Better Business Bureau has gotten better and will list the number of complaints on their site for a company. Their website has a lot of growing to do. For now it looks like they have a kid running it but it's a start. If you wish to see what the Better Business Bureau has on a company click here for a search page. When searching don't put too much information in or or might not find what you're looking for. Put in only one piece of information at a time. Search numerous ways. Phone numbers can be changed and then you wouldn't find the report if the BBB only has an old number. Companies can move. Under what name might it be? Bob Smith Roofing might be under Bob Smith Roofing, Smith Roofing or just Bob Smith. Try different variations to come up with the report.

Since the BBB had gotten better in more recent years, I finally gave in and joined them in 5/04. Prior to that I had teased them for years that they do not come up to my standards and I actually filed a complaint against the BBB with the BBB (isn't that ionic) that I wanted to see them do a better job. They took that as a joke and threw my letter in the trash. Over the last several years I have continually complained that their website does not help consumers looking for a roofer. Try this yourself. Go to their home page. Then click on "For Consumers", Then "BBB Business Directory", then "R" for business categories that start with "R", then "Roofing Contractors". What you then get is a list of hundreds of roofers up and down the Northeast US. There is no way to filter that list to your city, your zip code or by BBB ratings. You have to read through all them looking for a roofer in your city. I have complained to them many times about this and how "Zacharia Roofing" is at the end of a list that no one will ever see. Why would someone looking for a roofer in Philadelphia want to waste time looking at roofers in Virginia. Every rinky-dink website today offers the ability to filter your choices. Since the BBB doesn't offer me anything of value and they just doubled their yearly fee I decided not to renew in 5/09. Yet they still track businesses and you can see we have an "A" rating from them but technically are not a member. You can still look up individual business and can find us. What I didn't like is that consumers looking for a roofer, and have no name in mind yet, will never see my name on the bottom of that list so AAA Roofing gets the calls and the consumer is never given the opportunity to see my name and check out who I am. The consumer on their website looking for a roofer will never have the opportunity to read this website.

Do they have a license?
Most advice will say that you should make sure they have a license but what will that do for you. The theory is that if it is a licensed roofer than the town can pull the license if there are too many complaints. That does not happen in Philadelphia. Licenses rarely get pulled. There would have to be a major outcry for that to happen. Even the company I mentioned above had his license for 17 years that he pulled his scams. It wasn't even the city that went after him - it was the Feds.

If you wish to check on a Philadelphia License click here. This will download a PDF file of all contractors in Philadelphia. This would apply to ONLY Philadelphia. If you go just 10 feet outside the city then he would not be licensed in that area unless he got a license for that township. In PA they don't do state-wide or county-wide licensing. It's every single township for themselves. For instance, doing a job just outside Philadelphia past 63rd and Market is a township called Milbourne. They are only about 8 blocks by 3 block but they have their own government (as do all townships) and they want their own license. So if you want your contractor to be licensed in your specific township you'd have to check with that township. But in the real world, all these township licenses can add up to big bucks over and over again ever year. I would say that if he's licensed in one major municipality then at least he's got a real business and I wouldn't ask for more than that. There are some townships (such as Cherry Hill, NJ) that do not even do licensing so there is no control of contractors in those area.

A license does not make a good roofer. There is no test to take. The roofer pays his licensing fee and he has a roofing license. What counts is what's in his head and in his heart. A non-licensed roofer might truly do a good job but be unable to secure all the necessary insurance. The insurance is a separate risk that you take which I'll discuss in a minute but the lack of a license does not mean that the roofer is no good. Of course if he doesn't have a lot invested in his business you might say that he has nothing to lose to just fold up and close up shop. That might be true but again the lack of a license is not proof of poor quality work. I can show you 10 times as many licensed companies that do poor work.

Many articles will say that the unlicensed roofer is ruining it for the rest of the roofers. No, the licensed roofer doesn't know how to sell his quality work and wants someone else to eliminate the competition. If the unlicensed roofer is truly no good then Capitalism will take its course and will eliminate the unscrupulous roofer - that is, if you do your homework and don't hire him. Capitalism automatically weeds out the inefficient and unscrupulous companies. Don't cry on government's shoulders because you fell for another scam.

Reputation - how long have they been in business?
What kind of history do they really have? Many companies say they have been in business for years. Is that “in the business” or running this business? And they could say what they want. Would you know the difference? Even if someone honestly starts a company they may not be around very long. Fifty percent of all new businesses fail within 5 years. Not because of anything deceptive but just because it is hard to get those customers. It takes time to build a business and if the expenses become too big the business is forced to close.

Since most companies that start go out of business in a few years that 10 year guarantee will be worth nothing once they close down. Even if you know the true owner you can not go after him - only after his business and if it's not there you're stuck. 

If they say they've been in business for 20 years can your government records show that? If they are licensed can your city hall confirm they have had a license for 20 years? Then again maybe they started out small and got a license later. If they are incorporated then the state would keep those records as to how long they have been listed with the corporation bureau. All of these things are public records. They will even tell you the individual's name that actually runs the company.

Where are they located? Is it a real location?
Do they only give a phone number on their business card and other documents? If so, if they change the phone number you can never find them again. Even if they had no intention of disappearing you still can't find them if you have no new contact information. Do they have a physical address? Is there a real place of business or is this something that can be shut down in two seconds flat? Is the location just a rental garage to store stuff or is it a real office. Even offices can be rented and vacated at any time. When a property is owned the owner has an intention of staying there long term. If a property is rented he might have an intention of staying or moving on soon. You just don't know. But a serious place of business is a good sign. Some people might have a small operation and work out of their home and don't want their home address known so they use a post office box or the address of their storage garage. There is nothing inherently wrong with keeping your personal residence separate from your business customers but anyone who uses their home address or makes it known is taking on risk of harassment or calls when he doesn't want them. On the other hand, someone who does mix personal and business would only do so if he had extreme confidence that his customers will be happy customers. 

It is my belief that your job puts the clothes on your back, a roof over your head, the food on your table and pays for those family vacations. No one should treat their job callously enough to think that their business isn't already tied to their personal life. Too many people today think that at 5 o'clock their job is over and there is no reason to think about work again until they have to report for work the next day. Most people don't recognize the importance of their job. If the boss sees one guy waiting to run out the door at 5 o'clock and another guy staying over a little extra because there was that one thing that bugged him that he had to get done, who do you think gets promoted or gets the attention?

Does he have a listing in the Yellow Pages? Any business can have a business phone line for as little as $30 per month. All business phones get listed in the Yellow Pages for free. You pay extra to turn that listing into a bigger ad. So his free listing should be there in the Yellow Pages so his customers can find him even if it's not an ad. If not, then he is not serious enough about his business to dedicate a phone line to. What happens if he has no listing and he does your roof and then later you need him but you misplaced his number. If he's not listed then you can never call him. AS far as not having a dedicated business phone line, he could use his home phone number but it's more professional to answer a business phone with "ABC Roofing" then their home phone with "Hello". If he can't dedicate just $30 per month for such a phone line then something's wrong. Maybe his phone is just a cell phone which is worse. People change their cell phone company a lot. So the cell phone number you have today not only doesn't have a stationary address but can be changed on a dime.

If he has a listing in the Yellow Pages don't take the absence or inclusion of an ad to mean anything. A large ad could be there to find new customers because his old customers are not recommending him. On the other hand, a large ad could be there because he has a thriving company and is looking to expand. If there is no ad but just a phone listing it could mean that he is not doing well and can't afford to advertise but on the other hand he could be swamped with work by people referring him and is not looking for anymore work. He might not be able to handle what he already has.

Most people never ask about insurance. It's up to you how much of a risk you want to take in this area. I personally don't like insurance in many areas of life except where I'm required such as my car, truck or roofing business. Rates are extremely high and I'm tired of being part of a system that pays plaintiffs enormous sums for spilt coffee while they're driving or loss of their ESP skills from a CAT scan. It's ridiculous! If the roofer has no insurance it might get you a cheaper price - if you know about it. If you don't now about it he will just charge the market price for the job. 

If you want proof of insurance, don't ask for a copy of his policy. He might have cancelled it before your job or he might have been thrown out. You want to know if the insurance is current at the time your job is being done. You do this by calling his agent who will mail or fax you an "insurance certificate" which shows "current" insurance.

Then how much insurance? What kind of insurance? The two main kinds are Liability which protects him if he hurts someone or damages your home. There is Workman's Comp to protect his workers. One million dollars, two million? How much? That's your call. There is insurance for later years if his roof goes bad and damages your house after the job is done. Does he have that? How much is enough? It goes on and on. Probably your best protection is his expertise, skill level and attitude. If he's serious about his job, if he has common sense he shouldn't make mistakes. No drugs, alcohol or games and you've already eliminated the biggest risk. Companies that say "fully insured" are already pulling a scam. There is no such thing as "fully" insured. As I mentioned above, no matter how much insurance he has he can always have more.

Roofing insurance is extremely high due to the danger involved so you might find many qualified roofers that skimp on unnecessary parts of insurance. If insurance is important to you you will have to decide how much of this risk you are willing to take.

What kind of company is it?
The are two main types - Sole Proprietorships and Corporations.

A Sole Proprietorship is a company that the individual stands behind. There are no papers to do to start this kind of business except any required licensing. He is fully "at risk". If he goes out of business and he owes you something, either money or a promised guarantee repair, you can sue him personally and take his home if necessary. 

Most serious businesses are corporations. This give protection to the people running the corporation. You cannot cross the "corporate veil" to sue the people that run the company. You can only sue the company itself. If the company closes down there is nothing for you to go after and there is no requirement for the company to pay anything. When they close down they distribute what they have to the claims they have against them at the time. There is no going after them later. In certain cases you can cross the corporate veil to get to the corporate officers if they did something grossly wrong or illegal such as scams or tax evasion. But in most cases a company simply does their work in good faith and if he's a bad roofer he closes down and that's the end of the story. If he's a bad roofer he had no "intent" to deceive or steal so you couldn't cross the corporate veil for that.

Corporations must file paperwork with the state. You can call your state corporation bureau to find out when the corporation started and who its officers are. The date the corporation started might not be when the company started. They might have started years earlier as a sole proprietorship and just recently incorporated as they grew larger.

PA keeps all its registrations on-line. Click here to see the search routine from the PA Corporation Bureau. Sole Proprietorships do not have to register with the corporation bureau if they use their real name. Bob Smith Roofing does not have to list. Smith Roofing does not have to list. Bob's Roofing DOES have to list since his identity is not really available. This would be called a Fictitious Name registration and is also handled by the Corporation Bureau even though it is a Sole Proprietorships. All corporations have to list.

Who's behind the company?
A company might go by a "fictitious name". This is a name of a company that does not reflect a real person - a person that doesn't really exist. In this case the company must register the name with the state (at least in PA). Some companies might do this because they really don't want you to know the real names of the people behind the company. If the company folds you won't know who the real person was. Other times a fictitious name is used because the owner wants to use something other than a person's name. For instance, there is really no such person as IBM. That would be a fictitious name. There is nothing wrong with using a fictitious name. Just be aware that you might not be dealing with the person that you thought existed. If they properly listed their fictitious name with the state then you can call the state to get the real name. This information if public. See paragraph above.

Some companies go by several different names but with the same address but different phones for each company. In these cases you might call several different companies but really have the same one. In this case when someone else comes he already knows the estimate that was given before so all the estimates seem to be in line with each other. You just pick one of them and they got the job no matter which one you pick. In these types of scenarios there is something wrong from the beginning.

Watch out for false discounts. There are coupons that say up to $100 off any roof. Up to $100 would include 1 penny off. The coupons always say that it must be shown “at time of estimate”. That way they can up the price first. Senior citizen or handicap discounts - they can see that coming as soon as they walk in the door. Every job has its price. A company will decide what is the best price for them to make a reasonable profit. That is how a price is set on a job. If they don't get that price then they will not take the job.

Sales Tax
Watch out for tricks that add 7% sales tax on a job.
This would add $70 onto a $1000 job. There is no sales tax on roofing (at least not in PA) or any other work you get done on your house.

No matter what price someone gives, the next roofer can beat doing less. There are several things that determine price. 

Quality of materials.
Not all materials are the same but there would be no way for you to figure out which are the best. Only a roofer would know what works best for him. But if he doesn't care about long-term problems he will just use the cheapest one.

Quality of workmanship.
Obviously, if a roofer knows he won't be around in the future or know that he gives the run-a-round when you call with problems, he can skip on important things that should be done.

His expenses such as labor or insurance.
If he has higher cost, such as better materials or insurance, these will have to be reflected into the price.

His popularity. "Supply and demand" - the first thing everyone learns in any economics course. If there's a drought and there is not much lettuce then the demand for lettuce is too high and the way to reduce that is to raise the price. No different here. If the roofer has a lot of people asking for him to work then he might raise his price knowing he can't handle all the work now so one way to cut back on the demand is to raise the price and that automatically makes him more money on the jobs that he does take. Someone who does not get much work needs to lower his price to bring in more customers. But then you have to ask why he doesn't get much work.

The point of any business is to "maximize profits" so even if a company has low expenses and few customers he might still be high trying to imitate the better customers. 

Is the price firm?
It is common to get the job started and then they come down and tell you that after they ripped open the roof they found all this rotted wood (or something similar) and that the price is now significantly higher. They tell you that the original price was just an "estimate". There should really be no reason that the initial inspection didn't show this other major problem. It is possible that there was a major problem that they didn't see but it would have to be something really unusual for it not to have been noticed originally but somehow they seem to convince a lot of people that their roof was the one unusual roof. The customer doesn't know the other customers that also seem to have the one and only unusual roof. And since your roof is now wide open you have to give them the extra money. You can't tell them to leave since it might rain by the time you find someone else.

How do they want to get paid?
Does he want a deposit? 
If you have to give him a deposit how will you know that he will come back? Or maybe he'll drag it out and start much later than he said. Get an approximate starting date in writing if you pay a deposit. For instance, "...will start within 10 days". You can be the judge if he's dragging it out or if the weather has really been too bad. If it is a small job there is no need for a deposit. If it is a one day house roof deposits usually are not paid but the job is paid for at completion. After the job is done you might ask to hold onto a small amount (say 10%) until it rains but the fact that you make it through the first rain is no guarantee of quality or that you'll make it through the second or third rain. If you are getting a shingle roof done (or something else extensive and expensive) then it is more fair to pay a deposit since the roofer will be making a large investment before he even shows up (such as material, labor, or a dumpster). You could make a payment in advance and then again when they start and some more during the job but never pay the whole amount until you are satisfied that it is all done the way you wanted it done. But, keep in mind that you might pay a deposit and never see the guy again. If a job is $2,000 and no deposit is paid, he then sees in his mind he'll be paid $2,000 if he does your job. If you give him a $1,000 deposit, he then has it in his mind that if he shows up he only gets paid $1,000 when he's done the roof. His day on your roof has less appeal. If he has your deposit for $1,000 and he knows of another job that the guy wouldn't give him a deposit then he knows that on that day he can go to your job and get $1,000 or go to the other job and get $2,000. Now, where do you think he's showing up on that day? You get pushed to the back burner until he has no more jobs and the only ones he can do are the ones that will pay him $1,000 when done.

Does he want cash? 
If the roofer asks for cash what could that mean? The roofer might ask that you be there when the job is done so you can pay him and pay him in cash. He might not want to trust you to mail him a check. This could cost you a day from work to be home, but then again, maybe you want to be there anyway when they do the job. It depends on how much you trust them. If he asks for "cash only" there are several things to think about. If it is to keep it off the books that is between him and IRS. It doesn't automatically mean you got a bad job but you might not want him to get away with that. Cash could mean you got a bad job and he wants to run with cash before it rains. You can't stop a check after it rains if you gave cash. It could also mean that he is doing the job on the side from the company that he represents and not turning it into the company. In this case you have no guarantee since the company would know nothing about the job although the company would still have some responsibility since they hired him and he pulled a trick. The company would be responsible for hiring a bad worker who went out with their truck and their name.

Remember, a guarantee is only someone's promise that they'll come back if there's a problem. If they're out of business your guarantee is worthless. It's more important to have a roof done right. You don't want to have to try to make a claim on the guarantee.

Some things to look out for in guarantees:
10 year guarantee which covers up to 3 repairs during that time. 
Only 3 times? If there's a problem they should come back a hundred times. And why do they want to get out of this guarantee after 3 times? Why are they worried about times 4, 5 and 6? How many times is this roof going to leak? I have no problem saying that I'll come back numerous times because I know it will never occur because I don't do roofs requiring numerous repairs.

10 year guarantee (if you pay the yearly fee).
A customer kept asking me if I'd really come back for free if there was a problem. I asked why she thought I would charge her. She said she had other estimates and their guarantee was only valid if she paid a yearly fee to keep the guarantee in effect. 

Guarantee is void if you walk on it or install something on the roof.
How can the guarantee be voided simply because you walked on it. I could see if the roofer says that you walked AND damaged the roof or if you bolted an antenna through the roof but what if the leak is someone else. The roofer should make an honest determination as to whose fault it is. If the fault's the roofer's he should fix it for free. If it's your fault then you pay.

Guarantee is not transferable - good only for original purchaser.
You get the same thing if you buy a TV or car. It's not fair. If I say the roof will last 10 years what's the difference who's living under the roof. The roof didn't go bad just because someone else moved in. Is the roof guaranteed or the people? It's just another excuse to get out of the guarantee.

The most important thing (even above a contract) is to find an honorable person to deal with. Can you find other customers of his that are happy? Can you find other customers from years ago that can state that his roof held up or if there was a problem that he came back? He might have a bunch of customers from last week that haven’t had a leak yet. And remember, if he supplies you with references, he’s supplying the list. He’s going to skip over any customers that don’t like him. Even the worst roofer has someone that likes him – like his brother.

How do you decide?
Now that you know all about roofing it's time to make a decision. Here are the main points to look for. 

  • Look for a company that has been around awhile. We have been a family business since 1940 (and can prove it). There are some others that have been around for awhile but not many. 
  • Try to find your roofer from recommendations. 
  • If you ask for references don't take them too seriously.
  • Try to check any claims he makes such as length of time in business. It's more important that he's telling the truth then how long he has been in business. Your research should primarily be to determine if you are dealing with an honest person.
  • Research using PA Corp Bureau, City of Phila courts, City of Phila L&I (for licenses), Better Business Bureau or just do a Google search and see what other people are saying about them
  • If we say the roof will last ten years we mean ten years. We don't care who is living underneath. Check out details of the guarantee.
  • Compare fairly. When comparing prices on roofs be sure you are comparing the same type of roof. Is it the same number of plies? Are you getting a new drain box, spout, painting? Is the other roofer doing less and that's why it's cheaper?
  • Try to get a gut feeling as to whether you feel the person is being honest with you.

Now it's time to get the job done. Read what should be happening on that day.



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