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8 Red Flags to Look Out For with Composite Deck Contractors

November 9th, 2023 | 5 min read

By Jacob Livingston

red flags composite deck contractor installing boards with a drill custom built michigan

As a homeowner in Michigan, you understand the joys and challenges of property ownership. The dream of a beautiful composite deck, a space for barbecues and gatherings, is a common one.

However, this dream can become a nightmare when you encounter unreliable deck contractors. If you've ever faced a contractor who lacked professionalism or struggled to deliver as promised, you're not alone. 

At Custom Built, we've been serving Michigan homeowners for over 15 years. Our commitment to top-notch service and high-quality composite deck projects has earned us a reputation as industry experts. With decades of experience, we know the ins and outs of composite decking and how to ensure a smooth, stress-free experience for our clients. 

In this article, we'll guide you through the red flags to watch out for when selecting a composite deck contractor. We'll leverage our extensive knowledge to help you avoid the pitfalls and find a contractor who delivers on their promises, just like we do at Custom Built.

1. Lack of Licensing and Insurance: No Safety Net

lawyer reviewing deck contractor license and legal documents custom built michigan

The absence of a valid license or insufficient insurance coverage should raise alarm bells. If a contractor is unwilling to provide proof of insurance, it's a major red flag. In Michigan, contractors are legally required to have a license for projects exceeding $800. Decks, as structures, fall under this category.

Hiring an unlicensed contractor can leave you without legal recourse if the project goes awry. Remember, without the license, "you get what you paid for."

When a contractor lacks insurance, it's not just about their safety; it's about yours too. In case of accidents or damage during the project, you may be left with the bill or the responsibility for addressing any liabilities. Always insist on a licensed and insured contractor to protect both your investment and your peace of mind.

2. Absence of Portfolio and References: No Track Record

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A trustworthy composite deck contractor should have a portfolio showcasing past projects. If they're unwilling to provide references or if you uncover negative feedback from previous clients, proceed with caution. A history of successful projects provides you with a sense of security, even though past performance doesn't guarantee future results.

Remember to consider the value of a contractor's portfolio.

It's your window into their expertise and craftsmanship. A well-documented portfolio shows that they have completed projects similar to yours. It also allows you to visualize what your deck could look like once it's completed.

Here's what to watch out for in previous projects:

  • Board gapping
  • Joist deflection
  • Composite board warping
  • Unfinished corners
  • No option for joist tape
  • The middle corner is mitered and the other 2 are square

3. Unclear Project Details and Estimates: Ambiguity Breeds Risk

construction plans for composite deck build custom built michigan

Vague or incomplete project proposals and frequent changes to project plans and costs should set off warning signals. A trustworthy contractor should be specific about the project details, ensuring everything is in writing. This not only adds a layer of accountability but also gives you legal leverage in case of deviations from the agreed plan.

Project clarity is the foundation of a successful project.

Clear, detailed project plans leave no room for misinterpretation. You know precisely what you're getting, what it will cost, and how long it will take. Without this clarity, you're stepping into an uncertain journey, leaving your deck project vulnerable to changes, surprises, and potential disputes.

4. High Upfront Payments: An Unreasonable Request

homeowner using credit card to pay for composite deck build custom built michigan

If a contractor requests a large percentage of the total project cost upfront, be wary. They should provide a payment schedule and a written agreement detailing payment terms. This ensures that you're paying for work that has been completed, reducing your financial risk.

High upfront payments can also indicate a contractor's financial instability or dishonest intentions. Watch out for the "One Call Close" method, which aims to get you to sign during a single conversation, often lacking a well-defined plan.

5. Unwillingness to Pull Permits: Ignoring Building Codes

approved stamp with michigan building permits for composite deck build custom built

Permit violations can lead to subpar and potentially dangerous construction. If your contractor is unwilling to pull permits, it removes a crucial third-party accountability layer. Permits ensure the project adheres to local building codes and standards, protecting your investment.

Permits serve as a safeguard, ensuring that your deck is built according to safety regulations and local building codes. A contractor's reluctance to pull permits might indicate they plan to cut corners or avoid accountability. A professional contractor will gladly adhere to permitting requirements, as it reflects their commitment to quality and safety.

6. Inadequate Contracts and Agreements: Clarity Matters

homeowner signing fixed price agreement contract for composite deck project custom built michigan

Your contract is your legal agreement, so every detail matters.

A well-structured contract outlines the scope of work, project timeline, payment schedule, and other essential terms. It's your safety net and your guide throughout the project. An agreement that needs clarity can lead to disputes and headaches.

Make sure your contract provides you with the protection and guarantees you need.

A credible contractor should provide a written contract with clear terms. Avoid ambiguous or one-sided agreements. Ensure warranty or guarantee details are included and understand the fine print. In Michigan, contractors are liable for up to two years, and there's no specific warranty imposed on the project.

7. Negative Reputation and References: Trust the Reviews

homeowner rating a composite deck contractor on tablet custom built michigan

Negative reviews, complaints, or difficulty obtaining references are red flags. Dive into reviews to get the whole picture, and remember that a few negative comments among numerous positive ones may not be a cause for concern.

Negative reviews can reveal important insights. Pay attention to specific concerns raised in reviews:

  • Were the issues resolved to the customer's satisfaction?
  • Did they encounter repeated problems, or were they isolated incidents?
  • Were they able to properly install my composite decking materials and adhere to project milestones?

Sometimes, negative reviews can provide valuable information that helps you set realistic expectations for your project.

8. Surface-Level Misbehavior: Professionalism is Key

homeowner shaking hands with composite deck contractor custom built michigan

Remember to consider the importance of professionalism. Your gut feeling matters when evaluating a contractor's demeanor and behavior. You're entrusting your home to these individuals; ensure they are genuine and knowledgeable.

Professionalism sets the tone for your project experience. It's not just about how a contractor presents themselves; it's about how they manage the project and address any issues that may arise. A professional contractor communicates, respects your time and property, and handles challenges with integrity and expertise.

Next Steps to Hiring a Composite Deck Contractor

If you've ever dreamt of enhancing your home with a composite deck in Michigan, you know the excitement of envisioning that ideal outdoor space. However, this excitement can quickly fade if you fall victim to unscrupulous contractors.

The pain of dealing with unlicensed and uninsured builders, murky project details, high upfront costs, and a lack of professional demeanor can quickly turn your dream project into a nightmare.

Throughout this article, we discussed critical red flags that homeowners in Michigan should be aware of when selecting a composite deck contractor. We explored licensing, references, project details, upfront payments, permits, contracts, reputation, and professionalism. We hope that by understanding these warning signs, you can embark on your deck project with confidence.

With over two decades of experience, we've built our reputation on trust and excellence. When you choose Custom Built, you choose a team dedicated to bringing your composite deck dreams to life while upholding the highest service standards.

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Now that you know how to vet your composite deck contractor options in Michigan, let’s explore what the first step of the Custom Built Proven Process looks like with your build, how much your future outdoor living space will cost, and the best composite decking brands:

Jacob Livingston

Jacob brings 20+ years of residential construction experience to the Custom Built team. He has spent years in the field learning the hands-on side of building from foundation prep to roofing shingles. With a need-to-know mindset and a desire to understand how things work, Jacob has studied building science, systems integration, home inspection, and radon measurement and mitigation.