Spring is here! Consumers waiting for the weather to break are eager to get started on repairs and home improvements they've been putting off. Home and garden shows and expos occur almost every weekend across our region, so it seems an appropriate time to discuss selecting the right people for some of these types of jobs.
A visit to any home show confirms there's no shortage of firms offering similar services. Trying to decide which contractor might be best for your specific needs can be confusing and sometimes overwhelming. In our area, the good news is that we have an abundance of fantastic home improvement firms that are committed to excellence and can be counted on to do the job right. Unfortunately, there are also many companies that consistently leave homeowners with unwanted headaches, and if this spring is like all others, we are sure to see an abundance of scam contractors that travel through the Midwest, looking to make a quick buck off of unsuspecting homeowners.
Not doing your homework can be painful and expensive. Last summer, an Omaha couple chose a local firm to add an all-season room to their home. The folks made an initial payment of nearly $6,000 to an individual who represented himself as a licensed contractor, but it didn't take long for the couple to see some red flags. Later, they just saw red.
The contractor did do a small amount of work to get the project started and had some lumber delivered for framing purposes, but after that he was long gone and not taking their calls. The couple were forced to hire another contractor to complete the job and later learned no permit was even taken out for the project by their original worker. Had this couple checked with the BBB beforehand, they would have discovered that the firm had an F rating with the bureau and a longstanding record of fraudulent business practices.
Sadly, it's a story we hear a lot at the BBB. Just as is the case with many scams, the individuals who operate home improvement schemes can be very clever and can appear to be very professional, so it's extremely important to check out companies, and also the individuals who operate them, with the BBB.
Whether it's a spring home improvement project, a major landscaping job, a new addition or a basement remodel, there are some basic guidelines to help ensure you select the right firm for the job.
First, take your time and be sure to compare costs.
Get at least three bids from prospective contractors and make sure all the bids are based on the same specifications and materials. Labor and time needed to complete the project can differ pretty dramatically, but it's important for all contractors to offer bids using the same information.
There are many resources you can use to identify local contractors. The BBB maintains free and easily accessible business reviews on nearly all of the businesses in our area at www.bbb.org. If a contractor has met the BBB's accreditation standards, our site will even allow you to request a quote directly from the firm you are reviewing.
Also, ask all contractors to provide local references. People often mistakenly assume that if a firm provides references, that's good enough. Take time to contact the references. That's the point of asking for them, after all.
Beware of high upfront fees. Contractors may require a down payment before work begins, but it should not be a significant portion of the total cost. Instead, make payments that align with the progress of the work completed, and you should make sure you are satisfied with the work before remitting the final payment.
The BBB often suggests the rule of thirds regarding payments. If you have checked out the firm thoroughly and are confident you're dealing with trustworthy people, go ahead and pay a third of the project cost ahead of time, a third at the midway point and a third upon the satisfactory completion of the job.
Take time to review your contract thoroughly. Make sure it includes a list of all the materials needed to complete the job and an itemized list of all costs involved. Any subcontracted labor should be noted, and the contract should include a warranty for all work performed.
Any agreed-upon items not in the contract should be added and initialed by both parties. Make sure that the start date and the completion date are clearly defined and never rely on verbal representations.
Also ask for lien waivers to prevent subcontractors from being able to place a lien on your property in the event your contractor doesn't pay them.
Ask the contractor for confirmations of license and insurance. Find out if the company is insured against claims covering worker's compensation, property damage and personal liability, in case of accidents. Verify coverage directly with the business's insurance company, if possible.
In a land of harsh winters, spring is our most welcomed time of year. If now is the time to shop for a home improvement contractor, you can do so confidently. Follow a few simple rules to ensure a great experience this season.
Jim Hegarty is president of the Better Business Bureau representing Nebraska and southwest Iowa. To contact him, email email@example.com or call 402-898-8520.