Spring Cleaning and Contractors

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.

Seniors especially should 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.

Who's There?

The home repair industry is the single most-inquired-about industry at the Better Business Bureau (BBB)—it is 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, take the initiative to find a company through references or even your local phone book.

Someone coming to your door, unsolicited, to tell you about a problem they noticed with your roof, gutters, siding or driveway can be a "red flag," according to the BBB. These solicitors often claim to have leftover materials from another nearby job and will offer unbelievably low prices. Many will only accept cash, and demand a yes or no right away to secure a low price.

You should be able to pay a contractor by check or credit card when the work is completed to your satisfaction. If you are dealing with a traveling contractor, or you're asked to pay in cash (never a good idea!), be extra cautious and make sure to ask for identification and note the license plate number on the contractor's vehicle.

Know Your Rights

If you plan to hire a contractor this spring, these steps can help you protect yourself.

  1. Get more than one bid. Contact several companies and get multiple bids that are based on the same building specifications, materials, labor and time needed for completion. You should also verify insurance and coverage for claims against workers' compensation, property damage and personal liability in the event of accidents.
  2. Get it in writing. Make certain you understand the terms and conditions and never sign a partial or blank contract. The contract should 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, and any warranty should be in writing. 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.
  3. Check references. Before hiring a contractor, always check www.mybbb.org. You'll be able to enter the business name and location to view the BBB's report on the business and see if they are accredited by the BBB. To be accredited by BBB, a business must apply for accreditation and BBB must determine that the business meets BBB accreditation standards, which include a commitment to make a good faith effort to resolve any consumer complaints.

Don't Be a Victim

If you think you've been the victim of a home-repair industry scam, you can file a complaint with the BBB.

A "three-day cooling off rule" may be available for in-home purchases in many states and under Federal Trade Commission rules. You may file a complaint with the FTC related to the Cooling Off Rule or obtain information on other consumer matters online or by calling 877-FTC-HELP.

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