We’re all trying to make our money go a little further these days. That may include more do-it-yourself projects around the house instead of hiring someone to do the job. But when home repair and construction projects require outside help, make sure you do your homework before you sign a contract or pay any money.
While there are many reputable contractors who do a good job, the attorney general’s office gets hundreds of complaints each year about repair jobs that are never finished, contractors who abandon the job after getting paid, substandard work, missed deadlines, and cost overruns. Also reported are scam artists who target seniors, attempting to talk homeowners into a series of unnecessary and expensive projects.
Just this past year, the Consumer Protection Division stopped several home repair schemes that cost homeowners thousands of dollars, including a South Carolina company that pressured consumers into paying for unnecessary duct cleaning, a Hickory replacement window company that forced homeowners to pay money they didn’t owe, a roofer who ripped off homeowners and businesses in the Raleigh area, and three different driveway pavers that overcharged seniors for shoddy work.
Don’t fall victim to a home repair rip off. To protect your money and your home:
• Shop around. Seek recommendations from friends, neighbors, co-workers and others who have gotten work done on their homes recently.
• Check credentials. Check with the Consumer Protection office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM and your local Better Business Bureau to learn about the contractor’s complaint history. Ask to see the contractor’s insurance policy, especially for roofing, painting or tree removal services. If the contractor is uninsured, you may be liable if an accident occurs on your property.
• Beware of fly-by-night contractors. Don’t do business with strangers who knock on your door promising immediate home repair in exchange for up-front payment. All too often, they will overcharge you for poor quality work or simply take your money and run.
• Say no to now-or-never offers. Steer clear of any contractor who tries to rush you or says that a price is only good today.
• Get three written estimates. Compare them and be sure to check out each contractor’s qualifications and references.
• Get it in writing. Once you’ve chosen a contractor, ask for a written contract detailing all the work to be performed. It should specify the quality of materials to be used, the total price for labor and materials, any warranties or guarantees, the start and finish dates, and who will be responsible for clean-up.
• Study the contract carefully, and remember your right to cancel. Don’t sign any contract without reading it, and don't get pressured into signing it before you’re ready. If you sign a home improvement contract at your home rather than at the contractor’s place of business, you have three business days to cancel the contract under North Carolina law.
• Don’t pay up front. Try to pay once the project is completed, or in installments as phases of the work are finished. A reasonable down payment may be required for some projects, but don’t pay anything without getting a written contract first.
• Avoid paying with cash. If possible, pay by check or credit card. If a small contractor claims to need a lot of money in advance for supplies and materials, it may be a bad sign. Instead, consider purchasing the supplies and materials yourself and paying for the labor once the project is finished.
• Follow the project closely. Bring problems to the attention of your contractor promptly. If you’re building a home or taking on a major renovation, you may want to hire a home inspector or other construction expert to help you spot and fix problems.
• Keep a punch list. Make a note of any problems on your “punch list” of items to be fixed by the builder. Make sure the list includes a deadline for completion of the work.
• Don’t pay until you’re satisfied. Do not make a final payment until you’ve inspected the work thoroughly and agree that it has been completed as spelled out in your contract.
• Call 1-877-5-NO-SCAM with questions or to report a scam. If you need to check on a particular contractor, want to file a complaint or think you’ve encountered a scam, let my Consumer Protection Division know about it.
Attorney General Roy Cooper and his staff want North Carolina homeowners to get their money’s worth. Through consumer education efforts like these articles we hope to help consumers avoid problems from the start.