Whether you are planning an addition to your home or simply getting new windows, finding a competent and reliable contractor is the first step to a successful and satisfying home improvement project.
Your home may be your most valuable financial asset. It is important to be cautious when you hire someone to work on it. Before hiring a contractor, check with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors to assure that they have the appropriate license (www.azroc.gov; Phoenix: (602) 542-1525/Tucson: (520) 628-6345)
Not all contractors operate within the law. A less than reputable contractor:
- Solicits door-to-door
- Offers a “free” inspection and finds a problem that needs to be repaired immediately
- Claims they are doing work in your neighborhood and have “extra material” left over
- Pressures you to sign a contract for the work immediately
- Offers a “special deal” available “today only”
- Points out a “problem” with your home that you never noticed yourself
- Demands full payment up front, particularly if payment is demanded in cash
- Lacks identification, such as a permit from the city or locality
- Offers to help finance the project, either from his own funds or the funds of an associate, especially if your home equity or home deed is involved
Consumers can take some precautions to avoid home repair scams, including:
- Get multiple estimates on any home repair job before signing a contract.
- Compare bids and services. Be skeptical if the bid is too low. Cheaper is not necessarily better.
- Check out the contractor’s references and visit the site to check out the quality of the work itself.
- Check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau and make sure the contractor is registered with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors.
- Never pay in full up front, especially if cash is the only payment accepted.
- Make sure the contractor is insured and bonded;
- Document, in writing, the scope of the work to be done and the complete cost and time necessary to complete the job and how payment will be handled.
- Do research. Know how much you can afford and what you want done.
- Opt for the local, well-established contractor. Don’t assume that an ad makes the contractor reliable.
- Get bids in writing. Does the bid reflect the improvements you discussed? How long will the project take? A detailed, written proposal allows you to shop around.
Get a written contract that includes:
- The price of the job
- Payment schedule
- Never pay for the entire project before the work begins. Do not pay more than 1/3 of the total cost as a down payment. Remaining payments should be tied to completion of specified amounts of work.
- A detailed description of the work and materials (including colors, brand names and patterns)
- Estimated start and completion dates
- The contractor’s name and address
- A name and telephone number of the person to contact if problems arise
- The contractor’s signature, and
After Signing the Contract:
- Is a permit needed for your home improvement? Many localities require permits for building projects. Contact your local building department to see if a permit is needed. A contractor should not start work until the permit is issued.
- Don’t make the final payment to the contractor until you know that all subcontractors and/or suppliers have been paid. Get written proof of payment. Subcontractors and suppliers may file a mechanics lien against your home if they haven’t been paid.
- Get a copy of the warranty. If a contractor guarantees labor and/or materials, those warranties should be in writing.
- Keep all records related to your project. This includes the contract, change orders, warranties, and correspondence. These records are important, particularly if you have a problem with your project.
- Even if precautions are taken, problems may arise. Take time to talk to your contractor to resolve these issues. If problems continue, put your complaints in writing and send them to the contractor. Be sure to keep a copy of these complaints for your records.