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Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Spring swindlers sprout like weeds

  • Article by: Paul Muschick
  • The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
  • April 28, 2013 - 2:02 PM

There’s a hint of spring in the air, and when the weather turns nice, flowers aren’t the only things that bloom. Many scammers pop up in the spring, taking advantage of your desire to spruce up your property.

Don’t let your guard down.

In 2012 the home repair industry was the single most-inquired-about industry at the Better Business Bureau (BBB). It was also the second-most-complained about. The BBB advises homeowners to take the time to choose a trustworthy contractor and recommends the following tips:

Watch out for red flags. Recognize the signs of a potential problem. Did someone come to your door, unsolicited, and tell you about a problem they noticed with your roof, gutters, siding or driveway? Are they telling you they have leftover materials from a nearby job? Are they offering unbelievably low prices? Will they only accept cash? Do you feel pressured to make a decision? If so, don’t feel pressured to enter into a contract immediately.

Check references. Ask for local references and verify that the contractor is in compliance with all licensing, bonding and insurance requirements. Always check out a contractor at www.mybbb.org before doing business with them. You may also want to make sure that the company is a member of an industry trade association such as the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, the National Asphalt Pavement Association or if they are BBB accredited.

Get more than one bid. Get two or three bids and make certain that the bids are based on the same building specifications, materials, labor and time needed for completion. Discuss the bid in detail to make certain you understand the scope of the project. You should also verify insurance and coverage for claims against workers’ compensation, property damage and personal liability in the event of accidents. Also, be mindful that the bid you accept should not be based on price alone. Good customer service, reliability and workmanship are equally as important.

Get a written contract. Get any verbal promises in writing. At a minimum the contract should specify the work to be done, materials to be used, start and completion dates, payment schedules, guarantees, debris removal and your right to cancel. Never sign a partial or blank contract. If the project involves subcontractors, include a release-of-lien clause to provide some protection to you in the event your contractor fails to pay the subcontractors. If a warranty is provided, whether full or limited, it too should be in writing. The contract should also 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.

Know your rights. Pay by check or credit card when the work is completed to your satisfaction. If you are dealing with a traveling contractor, make sure to ask for identification and note the license plate number on the contractor’s vehicle. If you get “buyer’s remorse,” you may be able to change your mind after the contract is signed. The Federal Trade Commission and many states have a “three-day cooling off rule” for in-home purchases.

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