By Jeanne Roberts
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which mission is to protect American consumers from “unfair and deceptive acts or practices”, cautions that finding a home repair contractor may require a lot of legwork, but a diligent investigation will pay off in the end.
Not only is your home likely your largest and most valuable asset, but shoddy workmanship can reduce or even negate its value if work results in a lawsuit against you by a friend or neighbor injured on your property.
Don’t rely on a listing in the Yellow Pages, the FTC cautions, or an ad from a local flyer. One-minute spots on radio and TV are equally unreliable. The best way to evaluate a home repair firm is to talk to friends and neighbors who have had satisfactory (or even exemplary) work done. Then get contractors bids from service providers through Housing Predictor to find a reputable contractor.
Alternatively, if you are new to an area, contact your local Better Business Bureau (BBB), which rates area home repair businesses based on consumer complaints or positive reviews. This is true whether or not the business is a member of the BBB, though members will have a torch next to their listing.
One red flag that should alert you is a company or individual who solicits business door-to-door, usually under the pretext of working in your neighborhood or with the explanation that he (or she) has leftover materials from a previous job.
Another danger sign is a company or contractor who offers a discount if you generate additional business by way of referrals to family or friends; one who requires you to get any building permit needed; one who refers you to a relatively unknown lender; one who accepts only cash; one that fails to inform you of the federally mandated (TILA) 3-day cancellation period; one who does not have a listed phone number; and one who cannot provide adequate references, including a name and address of former customers.
Actual business licenses may be a secondary consideration, since not all states mandate them. But appropriate insurance coverage, in the form of contractor’s liability and property damage insurance, is essential. Ask to see either the actual (and current) insurance document, or the name of the insuror.
Finding a reputable contractor may take up to a dozen phone calls, Internet searches or actual trips to city hall, but your peace of mind will be assured. This is especially true in disaster-related situations, such as the recent flooding in Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
In the latter state, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson reports receiving a number of complaints that out-of-state roofers are posing as local companies – even to the extent of using local company names and logos – to solicit business.
Calling these operators “fly-by-night” contractors, Edmondson has issued a warning through his office, but urges continued vigilance on the part of Oklahomans when it comes to finding a roof repair company.
Edmondson’s recommendations are equally simple. In addition to the steps outlined above, contact your state Attorney General’s office to see if the company has generated complaints, make the contractor put every claim, warranty or promise in writing, and never make a down payment or final payment until you are satisfied with the work.