Hiring the right contractor for your home improvement projects

  • Posted: Sunday, March 24, 2013 12:01 a.m.

As sure as the daffodils, tulips and other bright flowers note the arrival of spring, so too does the emergence of swindlers. 

With warmer weather consumers often find themselves with a list of things around their houses that require mending, replacing or repairing. 

While reputable contracting companies are generally the rule and not the exception, consumers need to be on the lookout for repair offers that are too good to be true. 

Senior citizens especially must be vigilant as the unsolicited door to door offers to repair your roof, paint your house, reseal or pave your driveway come knocking this time of year.

In 2012 the home repair industry was the single most-inquired-about industry at the Better Business Bureau.  It was also the second-most-complained about. 

The BBB advises homeowners to take the time to choose a contractor you can trust. When looking to hire a contractor for your roof, house or driveway, the BBB recommends the following tips:

Watch out for Red Flags. Recognize the signs of a potential problem.  Did someone come to your door, unsolicited, and tell you about a problem they noticed with your roof, gutters, siding or driveway?  Are they telling you they have left over materials from another nearby job?  Are they offering unbelievably low prices?  Will they only accept cash?  Is it a now or never offer?  Are they promising an unconditional guarantee or 100% satisfaction?  Do you feel pressured to make a decision?  If so, don’t feel pressured to enter into a contract immediately. 

Check references. Ask for local references and verify that the contractor is in compliance with all licensing, bonding and insurance requirements.

Always check out a contractor at www.mybbb.org before doing business with them.  

You may also want to make sure that the contracting company is a member of an industry trade association such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, the National Asphalt Pavement Association or if they are BBB Accredited.

Get more than one bid. Get two or three bids and make certain that the bids are apples to apples. 

The bids should be based on the same building specifications, materials, labor and time needed for completion.  Discuss the bid in detail to make certain you understand the scope of the project.  You should also verify insurance and coverage for claims against workers’ compensation, property damage and personal liability in the event of accidents. 

Also, be mindful that the bid you accept should not be based on price alone.  Good customer service, reliability and workmanship are equally as important.

Get it in writing. Make certain you understand the terms and conditions.  Any verbal promises should be in writing and the contract should at a minimum specify the work to be done, materials to be used, start and completion dates, payment schedules, guarantees, debris removal and your right to cancel.  Never sign a partial or blank contract. 

If the project involves subcontractors you should have a release-of-lien clause added which provides some protection to you in the event your contractor fails to pay the subcontractors.  If a warranty is provided, it too should be in writing and must state whether it is a full or limited warranty. 

The contract should also state that the work will be performed in accordance with applicable building codes and that required permits or inspections are the responsibility of the contractor.

Know your rights. If you hire a contractor, pay by check or credit card when the work is completed to your satisfaction.

If you are dealing with a traveling contractor, be extra cautious and make sure to ask for identification and note the license plate number on the contractor’s vehicle.

If you get “buyer’s remorse,” you may be able to change your mind after the contract is signed. 

The Federal Trade Commission and many states have a “three-day cooling off rule” for in-home purchases.

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