Finding the right home improvement company to update or renovate your home doesn’t have to be a stressful and disheartening process. Yet most homeowners have no idea where to start because they are bombarded with bad press about contractors who are dishonest, inexperienced and downright unreliable. Homeowners today are wary of who they can trust.
Home Improvement Complaints and Scams:
“With lower-rate mortgages tempting homeowners to trade up to a bigger house, or to refinance and expand or repair their existing home, we’re finding that construction and home improvement activity is way up, and with it is the number of complaints in those areas,” said Consumer Protection Commissioner Edwin R. Rodriguez. (Consumer Affairs, January 2006)
“Home improvement complaints rank as the top consumer complaint in Connecticut and elsewhere across the country,” Rodriguez said. “While home improvements themselves can be expensive, any problems that arise often cost consumers thousands more to fix. Unfortunately, there have been many cases where a homeowner is left with a huge problem and has no financial means of getting it repaired.” (Consumer Affairs, June 2006)
Basic scams usually do not occur with accredited companies, so make sure the company you use is licensed. “The law requires home improvement contractors to register and follow certain procedures for a reason, to protect homeowners,” Rodriguez said. “This includes complying with state laws that assure consumers a level of financial protection.” (Consumer Affairs, June 2006)
Be Wary of Certain Sales Tactics:
According to the National Consumer Law Center at consumerlaw.org, unscrupulous contractors mostly target senior citizens. Do not fall into the trap of the following sales tactics that take advantage of homeowners:
o “Bait and Switch” – offers low prices for installed items like windows and home siding, and then tells the homeowner the item is out of stock and can only be replaced with a high-priced substitute.
o Misrepresent the urgency of a needed repair.
o Claim the item is more expensive than advertised because it has to be “custom made” to fit the home.
o Misrepresent that the consumer is receiving a discount because the home is selected to model the repair when, in reality, the consumer is paying market price or more.
o Misrepresent the energy savings, health benefits and value added to the home.
o Misrepresent the terms on which financing is likely to be arranged.
Practices to Follow for Finding the Right Contractor:
If you hire a contractor with a license and a good reputation (such as the Home Remodelers Group®), you are guaranteed to avoid unfinished work, financial wrongdoing and fraud.
The National Consumer Law Center has a list of suggestions for homeowners looking for a home improvement company:
o Do not hire an unknown contractor that solicits business by knocking on your door. Deal with companies recommended by friends or reputable building supply stores.
o Before agreeing to hire any home improvement contractor, get a second estimate for the same work from another contractor.
o Get references for the contractor and speak to those references. Ask about satisfaction and any problems that arose.
o Look at other work performed by the same contractor.
o Many states require contractors to be licensed and/or bonded. Check with the state licensing body to see if the contractor you are considering is licensed.
o Get a written contract describing explicit specifications of the work, the price (including details of any financing or credit terms), the responsibility for cleaning up, and the hourly rate for any added work. Ask for guarantees and other promises to be made in writing.
o If the written documents are different from oral promises, do not sign them.
o A 3-day right-to-cancel applies to door-to-door sales and home improvement loans even after the papers have been signed.
o Do not allow a contractor to begin work until financial arrangements to pay for the work are complete.
o Do not agree to pay the final payment until the project is finished.
o Do not consolidate other debts with a home improvement loan.
o If problems with a contractor or home improvement lender arise, get help from a lawyer or housing counselor immediately.
Take Care of Your Home: