Renovation scam warning as shady and shoddy contractors step up game in Calgary

Another warning for consumers to be vigilantes of shady and shoddy contractors this renovation season is coming from someone who knows first hand.

Elaine Coates is a Calgary homeowner who went through a frustrating reno job about 10 years ago. Her home was flooded with sewer water after a city line broke. She got a recommendation and hired a general contractor, who hired the necessary trades. But she said she soon started seeing major problems with the work.

“One nightmare after the other you know. really. For at least a year. You’re so far into the renovation. How do you back out?” she questioned. “Every week I kept on thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to fire this, I’ve got to fire this.’ You keep going second chance, second chance.”

By the time the chances were up, Coates said he was out thousands of dollars.

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“I probably lost about $50,000-to-$100,000. It was a huge loss, yeah.”

Calgary homeowner and contractor warns of home improvement scams.

She was so discouraged after she took on the job herself, hired the necessary trades, and traded the nightmare for a job well done. She also took it a step further, founding the Calgary Renovation Contractors Association & Calgary Women in Construction.

Coates’ advice is to do your homework before starting any work on your home, including checking and double-checking who you’re hiring.

“Even though they’re certified trades, doesn’t mean they necessarily are,” she pointed out. “I had all of the proof and the paperwork and the city permits. Everything. Did my due diligence, still went sideways, Quality of work doesn’t come on paper.”

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The Better Business Bureau Serving Southern Alberta & East Kootenay has seen and heard of many similar horror stories.

“The number one scam that was reported in 2022 was around home improvements,” BBB president Mary O’Sullivan-Andersen said.

The recently released BBB Scam Tracker Canadian Risk Report shows the median dollar amount lost by Canadians was $1,900 in 2022, compared to $661 the year before. That is a jump of 187 per cent.

O’Sullivan-Andersen said complaints centered around shoddy work, or no work at all. She added consumers should not simply hire someone based on a social media post, or a random ad — adding it’s a recipe for disaster.

“You don’t know if they’re licensed. You don’t know if they’re going to take the deposit and then be gone. We really need to be taking our time.”

The BBB pointed out scammers who are also the busiest during natural disasters — when time is often of the essence — and consumers need to watch out for those.

“We have storm chasers – contractors who are unauthorized contractors who suddenly put up a shingle saying that they can do the work.”

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Again, Coates and the BBB both advise people research and then research again. And don’t be afraid to pull the plug, if you find the job doesn’t go as you expected.

“If anything feels wrong — fire it right now,” Coates advised. “Fire it. Because even though you think, ‘Well they have $5K of my dollars’, so what? It’s going to cost you more in the end.”

The Calgary Renovation Contractors Association is hosting a workshop on Thurs, June 22 from 3pm to 6pm at Baker Tilley Catalyst.

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