Is cheapest the best? When it comes to home improvements, price shouldn't be your only consideration. When choosing a contractor, credentials, workmanship, reliability and references should be equally important.
When it's time for a home fix-up, there are plenty of reputable contractors, repairmen and handymen from which to choose. However, the fly-by-night, here-today-gone-tomorrow, door-to-door types usually aren't trustworthy. Unfortunately, each year many people find this out the hard way, according to a national survey conducted jointly by the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators and the Consumer Federation of America. Based on a survey of consumer agencies across the nation, complaints about home improvements was listed as the top concern.
In fact, 59 percent of the consumer agencies that responded to the survey listed home improvements as a major complaint category. Some of the complains included door-to-door paving scams, faulty workmanship, unfinished jobs and inflated bills. In one of the more common scams, door-to-door salesmen offer low-cost improvements such as driveway coating and roof repairs because they claim to have leftover material from other jobs. In many cases, the salesperson pressures the victim to pay in advance, and then never returns to do the work. Other times, the work is shoddy and the material is inferior. Still other times, the swindler claims to have used more material than originally anticipated and the final cost greatly exceeds the original price quote. There even have been reports of con artists driving their victims to the bank and pressuring them to withdraw money to pay for the job.
Another problem uncovered by the survey: Respondents ranked home repair contractors as the most likely of all companies to go out of business. This poses a major problem because companies that go out of business often leave customers with no recourse after they have made a
deposit for a good or service.
Getting the word out about scams will help curb deceptive practices and steer money to legitimate businesses. Here are a list of tips that will help you choose a reputable contractor and avoid becoming a victim:
Never pay for work in advance. If they won't bill you for the service, don't do business with them.
Never pay cash for a service. Write a check instead, and wait until all work has been completed before paying so you can inspect the work first to make sure that it has been done to your satisfaction.
Don't let servicemen or handymen into your home if you didn't call to report a problem. Most legitimate repair businesses don't make unsolicited house calls.
Insist on seeing some form of official identification, such as a sales permit or occupational license.
If you're looking for a home repairman for things such as driveway paving and roof repairs, check the phone book, get references from friends and neighbors and consult local trade organizations, the Better Business Bureau or the Chamber of Commerce.
Get a written estimate from several firms. Make sure the bids are based on identical project specifications.
Once you've selected a company, get a written contract for the work to be performed and make sure you fully understand it. Get all guarantees, warranties and promises in writing. Agree on start and completion dates and have them written into the contract.
Ask the contractor for customer references who have had projects similar to yours.
Never do business with construction companies soliciting door-to-door or handymen offering to do work cheaply because they have leftover material from another job.
Remember that bargain repairs usually aren't a bargain. A free inspection or low-cost cleaning job often turns up the need for expensive repairs that will cost thousands of dollars.
Never do business in a hurry or allow yourself to be pressured into accepting a one-day offer.