Portions taken from the Federal Trade Commission

If you're looking for a home repair or home improvement contractor, you need to do some homework to make sure you get a contractor who is licensed, reputable and professional. You do not need to be taken in by a contractor who is only working a scam.

Contractors to Avoid

If you've run into a contractor who has done any of the following, you already know that the contractor is a potential rip-off artist:

  • Solicits door-to-door
  • Offers you discounts if you find other customers
  • Just happens to have materials left over from a previous job
  • Only accepts cash payments
  • Asks you to get any required building permits
  • Does not list a business number in the local telephone directory
  • Tells you that your job will be a "demonstration" to show potential new customers
  • Pressures you for an immediate decision
  • Offers exceptionally long guarantees
  • Asks you to pay for the entire job upfront
  • Suggests that you borrow money from a lender that the contractor knows

Selecting a Contractor

When you want to get a home repair or home improvement job done, you should consider only reputable professionals. Ask for written estimates. Other questions to ask include:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Are you licensed and registered with the state?
  • How many projects like mine have you completed in the last year?
  • Will my project require a permit?
  • Will you use any subcontractors on my job?
  • What type of insurance do you carry?
  • May I have a list of references?

Reputable professionals will be licensed with the state, will have been in the business for a period of time and will likely have a photo album of their completed projects to show you. They should also acquire all the necessary permits to do your job.

If you have a large project, you should check with a couple of their prior customers. Ask to see the results of the contractor's work and ask if they were satisfied with the work and in dealing with the contractor.

Get It in Writing

Even professional contractors are eager to get to work. Some will ask that you sign the estimate to create a contract. Don't do it! Estimates are just that, estimates. Take time to review the estimate and ask questions about any unfamiliar items.

Ask for a written contract that includes the following:

  • Contractor's name, address, phone number and license number
  • Payment schedule for the contractor, subcontractors and suppliers
  • Estimated start and completion dates
  • Contractor's obligation to obtain necessary permits
  • Process for handling change orders (your authorization to make changes or additions to the work along with any change in project costs and schedules)
  • List of materials including color, model, size, brand name and product
  • Warranties covering materials and workmanship, including length of warranty period and limitations
  • List the specific work or tasks the contractor will or will not do. Make sure that it lists the contractor's responsibility for cleanup work including spills and stains
  • Write in any oral promises that were made before either party signs
  • A written statement of your right to cancel the contract within three business days if you signed at your home or at a location other than the contractor's business

Keeping Records

Keep a file related to your project in one place. The file should include:

  • The contract
  • Any change orders you authorized
  • All correspondence about your project
  • A log or journal of all phone calls, conversations and activities
  • Photographs as the job progresses

This file will be invaluable as a reference of what was done, particularly if you have problems with your project.

Where to Complain

If you have a problem with your contractor, you can file a complaint with your state and local consumer protection office, the local builders association, the Better Business Bureau, or the Federal Trade Commission, or you can consult with a consumer law attorney.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How much of your practice involves construction law?
  • How do I verify my contractor's licensing and insurance information?
  • My contractor never came back to finish the work he started. What can I do?
  • I think the work my contractor did wasn't done correctly. Do I have to pay him?

Tagged as: Construction Law, home repair scam, construction law lawyer