Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett has issued a list of reminders to consumers who are preparing to hire contractors for home improvement projects.
Corbett said since January 2005, his Bureau of Consumer Protection has received 875 complaints about home improvement contractors. Last year, the Bureau received nearly 3,000 home repair or remodeling complaints.
In 2004, home improvement complaints ranked the fifth highest on the Attorney General’s “Top 20” list of complaints for all consumers and fourth highest among Pennsylvanians aged 60 or older. The number of home improvement complaints typically increase during the spring, when homeowners are more likely to hire contractors to perform various projects.
“Typical home improvement complaints include shoddy and incomplete work or failure to start the job after receiving a deposit or payment,” Corbett said. “Many of these unscrupulous contractors create a sense of urgency or offer unrealistic low rates or deep discounts to entice unsuspecting homeowners.”
If planning to hire a contractor, Corbett said, never:
– Enter into a repair or improvement project without a written contract.
– Sign a blank contract, or one that does not include all the costs and supplies.
– Sign a contract that does not include a start and finish date or a three-day-right of cancellation notice.
– Pay more than a reasonable down payment, typically one third of the total cost, up-front.
– Hire a contractor who does not have a business card or local phone number and address.
– Hire a contractor who refuses to give you names and phone numbers of references.
– Make final payment until you are completely satisfied with the work.
– Feel pressured by contractors who make special or limited price offers.
Corbett said always:
– Make sure the contract includes the type, quality and warranty of materials to be used and outlines all the financial terms and payment schedules.
– Have a complete description of the work to be done and a guarantee that old materials will be removed.
– Insist that your contractor secures all the proper permits.
– Include a penalty clause in the contract for failure to complete work on time.
– Insist that the workplace remains clean and safe for the duration of the project.
– Get at least three estimates for the same work.
– Inquire if the contractor has liability and compensation insurance.
– Check your homeowner’s insurance policy to see if repairs are covered.
– Contact your local building codes officer if you question the quality of work performed.
“Also beware of traveling contractors who come to your home and point out specific problems,” Corbett said. “Others may claim to have materials leftover from another job or just happen to be ‘in the neighborhood’ for other work,” Corbett said. “A small amount of research can eliminate big problems when hiring a contractor to perform home improvement projects.”
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