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HomeHomes
Published: Wednesday, 5/10/2006

Avoiding Home Repair Fraud

If you re over 65 and you own a home, chances are you probably have to do periodic maintenance. If you are in poor health or you have the extra money, you may hire a contractor to do the work for you. That s all well and good, as long as the contractor you hire is honest and fair, and actually completes the work they were hired to do. Unfortunately not everyone is honest and fair.

Just because a contractor is listed in the Yellow Pages does not mean they are good. While the demand for quality home contractors is on the rise, the number of complaints against them is also rising. Home repair scams are increasing in number, and if you re over 65, you may be a target.

The best defense against a dishonest contractor is an aggressive one. Stay alert and watch out for these warning signs:

* Door-to-door salesmen who have no local connections and offer to do home repairs at a low price

* Home repair companies that list only a telephone number or post office box number

* Contractors who refuse to provide references and proof of insurance

* Contractors who offer free home inspections but cannot provide evidence of their qualifications

* Contractors who insist on full payment before the job is complete

* Contractors who ask for a check payable to a third party

* Contractors who insist on being paid in cash and offer to take you to the bank to withdraw funds to pay them for their work

Before you hire a contractor, make appointments with several and get estimates from them in writing. That way, you will have an idea of approximately how much the job should cost and you can weed out any contractors with bids that seem low or high.

Once you have narrowed down your list of contractors, check around and see how long they have been in business. Ask for references and find out if the contractor guarantees their work. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been lodged against them.

Once you have selected a contractor, they must by law provide you with a written contract for any repair or remodeling work costing over $1,000. Both you and the contractor must sign the agreement. Before you do, however, make sure that it includes the contractor s full name, address and telephone number, as well as a description of the work to be performed. The starting and estimated completion dates should be noted, as well as the total cost of work to be performed, including charges for estimates. A schedule and method of payment should also be included, indicating the exact amount of the down payment, subsequent payments and final payment.

If the contract looks suspicious in any way or you do not understand its terms, do not sign it. Take the contract to a lawyer or find a different contractor. If you do sign a contract and have second thoughts, you may be able to cancel it. By law, if the sale was made and signed at your home, you have three business days to cancel it. If it s been longer than three days, you may have to consult a lawyer.

Legally, a contractor must carry minimum amounts of insurance for property damage, bodily injury and improper home repairs. Ask the contractor you have hired for proof of insurance. If you are having substantial work done, you may want to get a lien waiver. This will protect you from any claims that could be made against you or your property should your contractor fail to pay subcontractors for their work or suppliers for their materials.

Once the contractor has finished, inspect their work and voice any complaints you may have. Arrange for your complaints to be taken care of right away and do not make final payment until you are completely satisfied with the work and know that all subcontractors have been paid.

It s your home and your money, so be careful whom you hire to make repairs. Just because you re over 65 doesn t mean you have to fall prey to home repair scams. Get the facts about home repair fraud and be on the lookout for anything suspicious. Stand firm and don t give in to high-pressure sales tactics or be fooled by prices that seem too good to be true. Protect your home and yourself!



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