Avoid Home Repair Pitfalls
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
The home repair season is in full swing and the sounds of saws and hammers (or nail guns) can be heard far and wide. While many repair jobs go pretty much as planned, others can turn into a nightmare for the homeowner.
Most home repair services are legitimate, but some scam artists posing as contractors use discounted prices or even scare tactics to entice homeowners.
They knock on your door and offer to repave your driveway using materials they say are left over from a nearby job. These crooks spray an oily black substance on your driveway that washes away in the next rain, or a lay down a paper-thin coating of asphalt that begins to crumble within days.
Or they may claim to spot damage to your roof from a recent storm and promise that they can repair it and falsely claim that your insurance company will pick up the tab. Or they’ll say your chimney is about to separate from your house and must be fixed immediately. The repair job isn’t needed, but they’ll charge you hundreds or even thousands of dollars for it.
These fraudsters work in a geographic area and then move on, making them difficult to catch. If you’ve been approached by a home repair scammer, report it to us at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM and to local law enforcement. We’ve been able to shut down some of the scammers and win money back for victims. We’ve also formed a task force bringing together our consumer protection experts, State Bureau of Investigation financial crimes agents, local police and prosecutors to target home repair fraud rings.
But we’d rather help you avoid problems in the first place. To keep your home repair job from going off-course, take these steps:
Be wary of unsolicited offers for home repairs. Avoid contractors who leave flyers on your door or mailbox. Be highly skeptical if a contractor comes to your door and says he noticed a problem with your home that needs to be fixed right away. Don’t let anyone pressure you into paying for a phony repair.
When you decide that you want work done on your home, begin by looking for the right person or company top do the job. Ask friends and family for recommendations.
Compare (written) offers
Oral guarantees aren’t worth the paper they aren’t written on. When you’ve identified some possible candidates for the work you need done, get at least three written estimates.
Check references carefully. Ask for the name of the contractor’s insurance company, and contact the insurance company to verify their coverage is up-to-date. (This is especially important for roofing, painting, or tree removal services.) Contact the Better Business Bureau and my office to see if the firm has a history of complaints.
If you are hiring a professional who should be licensed, make sure they are. For General Contractors, visit www.nclbgc.org
or call (919) 571-4138; for Electricians, visit www.ncbeec.org
or call (919) 733-9042; and for Plumbers or HVAC Contractors, visit www.nclicensing.org
or call (919) 875-3612.
Get it in writing
When you’ve selected a contractor, get a written contract. It should clearly state the work to be performed, estimated start and completion dates, the quality of the materials to be used, and the total cost including labor and materials. The contract should also state who is responsible for clean-up and trash removal once the job is done.
Second thoughts? Know your rights
If you signed your contract at your home (rather than at the contractor’s place of business), under North Carolina law you have three business days to cancel it.
Pay as you go
Try to avoid making any payments before the work begins. (A down payment may be required for some projects, but don’t pay until you have a signed contract.) If possible, make payments as the work is completed. Never make a final payment until you are satisfied with the job.