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?
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
Checking with authorities
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?
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?
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
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.
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?
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?
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.
Quality of materials.
Quality of workmanship.
His expenses such as labor or insurance.
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?
How do they want to get paid?
Does he want cash?
Some things to look out for in guarantees:
10 year guarantee (if you pay the yearly fee).
Guarantee is void if you walk on it or install something on
Guarantee is not transferable - good only for original
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 it's time to get the job done. Read what should be happening on that day.