North Carolina Department of Justice

North Carolina Department of Justice

North Carolina Department of Justice
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Do your homework on home repair

6/25/2009

By Attorney General Roy Cooper
 
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, my 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. We also hear about scam artists who target seniors, attempting to talk homeowners into a series of unnecessary and expensive projects.
 
Just this past year, my Consumer Protection Division has taken action against four home repair schemes that took homeowners’ hard-earned money. We shut down a roofing contractor who told an 80-year-old man from Raleigh that he could fix his roof for $7,500, then demanded more than $19,000 from him once the work was done. We took action against a Hickory replacement window company that ignored consumers’ right to cancel contracts and forced them to pay thousands of dollars they didn’t owe. We’ve gone after a paving contractor who overcharged seniors in the Greensboro and Wilmington areas for shoddy driveway work, and another that pressured seniors into paying too much for poor paving in communities across eastern and coastal North Carolina. 
 
 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 my Consumer Protection office at (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 shoddy 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. Don’t sign any contract without examining it closely, 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.