Hire Licensed and Respected Home Improvement Companies

Finding the right home improvement company to update or renovate your home doesn’t have to be a stressful and disheartening process. Yet most homeowners have no idea where to start because they are bombarded with bad press about contractors who are dishonest, inexperienced and downright unreliable. Homeowners today are wary of who they can trust.

Home Improvement Complaints and Scams:

“With lower-rate mortgages tempting homeowners to trade up to a bigger house, or to refinance and expand or repair their existing home, we’re finding that construction and home improvement activity is way up, and with it is the number of complaints in those areas,” said Consumer Protection Commissioner Edwin R. Rodriguez. (Consumer Affairs, January 2006)

“Home improvement complaints rank as the top consumer complaint in Connecticut and elsewhere across the country,” Rodriguez said. “While home improvements themselves can be expensive, any problems that arise often cost consumers thousands more to fix. Unfortunately, there have been many cases where a homeowner is left with a huge problem and has no financial means of getting it repaired.” (Consumer Affairs, June 2006)

Basic scams usually do not occur with accredited companies, so make sure the company you use is licensed. “The law requires home improvement contractors to register and follow certain procedures for a reason, to protect homeowners,” Rodriguez said. “This includes complying with state laws that assure consumers a level of financial protection.” (Consumer Affairs, June 2006)

Be Wary of Certain Sales Tactics:

According to the National Consumer Law Center at consumerlaw.org, unscrupulous contractors mostly target senior citizens. Do not fall into the trap of the following sales tactics that take advantage of homeowners:

o “Bait and Switch” – offers low prices for installed items like windows and home siding, and then tells the homeowner the item is out of stock and can only be replaced with a high-priced substitute.

o Misrepresent the urgency of a needed repair.

o Claim the item is more expensive than advertised because it has to be “custom made” to fit the home.

o Misrepresent that the consumer is receiving a discount because the home is selected to model the repair when, in reality, the consumer is paying market price or more.

o Misrepresent the energy savings, health benefits and value added to the home.

o Misrepresent the terms on which financing is likely to be arranged.

Practices to Follow for Finding the Right Contractor:

If you hire a contractor with a license and a good reputation (such as the Home Remodelers GroupĀ®), you are guaranteed to avoid unfinished work, financial wrongdoing and fraud.
The National Consumer Law Center has a list of suggestions for homeowners looking for a home improvement company:

o Do not hire an unknown contractor that solicits business by knocking on your door. Deal with companies recommended by friends or reputable building supply stores.

o Before agreeing to hire any home improvement contractor, get a second estimate for the same work from another contractor.

o Get references for the contractor and speak to those references. Ask about satisfaction and any problems that arose.

o Look at other work performed by the same contractor.

o Many states require contractors to be licensed and/or bonded. Check with the state licensing body to see if the contractor you are considering is licensed.

o Get a written contract describing explicit specifications of the work, the price (including details of any financing or credit terms), the responsibility for cleaning up, and the hourly rate for any added work. Ask for guarantees and other promises to be made in writing.

o If the written documents are different from oral promises, do not sign them.

o A 3-day right-to-cancel applies to door-to-door sales and home improvement loans even after the papers have been signed.

o Do not allow a contractor to begin work until financial arrangements to pay for the work are complete.

o Do not agree to pay the final payment until the project is finished.

o Do not consolidate other debts with a home improvement loan.

o If problems with a contractor or home improvement lender arise, get help from a lawyer or housing counselor immediately.

Take Care of Your Home:

Common Home Improvement Mistakes

You hear about it after every major storm. Home improvement contractors move into an area and promise great work, only to leave behind a shoddy job if the job gets finished at all. What you may not realize is that this happens every day, not just after a major tragedy. If you are hiring someone for a job make sure you avoid these common home improvement mistakes.

All of the better contractors and business owners want each and every party involved in their business to do a good job. Unfortunately though home improvement and remodeling is one of the top industries for both fraud and consumer dissatisfaction. The question that a lot of people have is why? Yes much of the blame does in fact fall into the hands of the home improvement industry; there are also some more common mistakes that you as the homeowner commit that will contribute to your own dissatisfaction. If you learn to avoid these mistakes, it can make the difference between a great home improvement project and a nightmare.

1. Falling In Love With The Salesman. Since you are probably like many and not an expert in the field of home improvement, you will begin to rely heavily on the friendliness and the so called credibility of the salesperson in an effort to determine the type of people that will be doing the project. Your dissatisfaction is guaranteed when either the employees or the subcontractors do not live up to the total expectations set by the salesperson. When you are ready to invite someone into your home, you need to make sure they are skilled in home improvement and not just someone who has been commissioned by a salesman whose main interest is to sell you improvements that you do not actually need.

2. Neglecting The Family Safety. You might be appalled to learn of the criminal history of some of the employees of home improvement companies. You will find such things as felony records, drug convictions, sex offenses, and domestic violence among others. Yes it is true that every prior criminal has the right to work, but they have no business being in your family’s home where it can put your belongings and family safety into question. You have the right to demand to see any employee records of individuals that are going to be coming into your home. The record should also contain a background check on the employee as well. This will help ensure that your family’s safety is well secure.

3. Asking The Wrong Questions. There are basic questions that you need to ask every contractor that comes into your home. But sadly these are often neglected. Some of these questions include things like “How long have you been in business?” “Where are you located?” among others. These are some of the most important questions that you can ask. The more questions that you ask, the better your chances of having the job done right by qualified individuals. Always ask to see references, and make sure the references you get are from someone in your community. Then make sure you call them up to verify or even go by to look at the work that was completed.

Home improvement does not have to be a nightmare. Avoiding these mistakes will increase the odds that the job is done to your satisfaction.

Your Home Improvement Project and Internet Resources

The Internet is a great resource for home improvement ideas. Seemingly endless, there are thousands of sites with how-to information, contacts for local contractors, reviews of services in your area and web communities devoted to home improvement and renovation projects. Unfortunately, it can be an overwhelming amount of information to sort through. Keep reading to learn about different sources of home improvement information on the Internet as well as how to access them.

1. Business Finders

You can use mapping sites like GoogleMaps or MapQuest to find local contractors and hardware stores near you. From there, you can browse their web sites, get a feel for the business or also look for reviews. If you’re curious what other consumers had to say concerning a prospective plumber, try using a search engine to search for his name or business name along with the word “review.” For example, if his name is Bob Smith, try searching for “Bob +Smith +Plumber +Review” to get accurate results.

2. Online Quotations

Many providers offer online quoting services. This can be a great way to gain an idea of a project’s price along with an estimated cost of materials. Even if you’re just in the budget and drafting stage, online quotes are a great tool to provide you a fairly accurate idea about cost.

3. How-To’s and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Information

Many web sites offer expertise articles or step-by-step DIY instructions for everything from how to hang a picture to how to frame a house. Before investing in information from an online source, check a few different pages just to cross check their opinions and recommendations as well.

4. Product Reviews

If you’re thinking about buying new home improvement equipment -like a new set of power tools or a table saw – online product reviews are great. Written by customers like you, they tell you the pros and cons of each product while rating factors such as price, durability, power and ease of use. Before you purchase a new home improvement tool, check the online product reviews.

5. Web Communities

Message boards, forums and web communities are all great ways to connect with other home improvement enthusiasts. They’re also fantastic for getting a specific question answered. Think of posting a question on a forum as similar to walking into a busy hardware store and asking everybody there for advice. You’ll get a lot of answers from people with varying levels of home improvement experience, ranging from experts to home improvement DIY hobbyists.

What You Should Know Before You Hire A Home Improvement Contractor (Part II)

In my previous post: “What You Should Know Before You Hire A Home Improvement Contractor,” I gave some tips on how to select the right Contractor for your project. Do not become the next victim.

Prior to hiring a Home Improvement Contractor (HIC), make sure to call the department or municipality that licensed that Contractor or business. I encourage you to call the Better Business Bureau also to see if that Contractor have or had any complaints. If you had a free estimate or quote from a Home Improvement Salesman (HIS) representing a Contractor or business, make sure that he or she is also licensed by calling the department or Municipality that licensed that business. Ask for identification such as a driver’s license and HIC/HIS license with a picture. If they don’t have a driver’s license or any kind of picture ID, it is very likely that they are bogus, and you should refrain from letting them in your home.

If you were offered financing through a Bank or a third party lender that the Home Improvement Company recommended, make sure you do not sign or execute any blank documents. Some HIC/HIS may ask you to fill out a credit application so they can check your credit profile to see if you are qualified for a home improvement loan. Keep in mind that such check will show up on your credit report as an inquiry which may lower your credit score. However, if you were advised that you were approved for such loan, make sure you thoroughly read the Retail Installment Obligation. Look at what interest rate you were assigned or charged, the monthly payment, amount of months, and most importantly, the total amount of payment. The total amount of payment is the amount you financed plus the interest added over the months or duration of the loan. You may also want to ask the HIC/HIS if there are any prepayment penalties or whether the loan will be recorded as a second mortgage to your property.

If you are a Veteran or a member of a Credit Union, you may be entitled to a much lower interest rate. Shop around with your banks before you jump for a home improvement loan. Know your rights as a consumer and invoke them accordingly. You have the right to be selective. Let no one pressure or strong arm you into signing a contract. Always take time out to think about it, discuss it with family members, or consult your attorney prior to executing a contract, which you may be bound by once you signed or executed such. In most cases, after the third business day elapsed, if you didn’t cancel, there is a valid and enforceable contract.