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How to Avoid Contractor Rip-Offs

Not all contractors operate within the law. Here are some tip-offs to potential rip-offs.

    A less than reputable contractor:
    • solicits door-to-door;
    • offers you discounts for finding other customers;
    • just happens to have materials left over from a previous job;
    • only accepts cash payments;
    • asks you to get the required building permits;
    • does not list a business number in the local telephone directory;
    • tells you your job will be a "demonstration;"
    • pressures you for an immediate decision;
    • offers exceptionally long guarantees;
    • asks you to pay for the entire job up-front;
    • suggests that you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows. If you're not careful, you could lose your home through a home improvement loan scam.

Checking References

Talk with some of the remodeler's former customers. They can help you decide if a particular contractor is right for you.

    You may want to ask:
    • Can I visit your home to see the completed job?
    • Were you satisfied with the project? Was it completed on time?
    • Did the contractor keep you informed about the status of the project, and any problems along the way?
    • Were there unexpected costs? If so, what were they?
    • Did workers show up on time? Did they clean up after finishing the job?
    • Would you recommend the contractor?
    • Would you use the contractor again?

Where to Complain

If you have a problem with your home improvement project, first try to resolve it with the contractor. Many disputes can be resolved at this level. Follow any phone conversations with a letter you send by certified mail. Request a return receipt. That's your proof that the company received your letter. Keep a copy for your files.

If you can't get satisfaction, consider contacting the following organizations for further information and help:

  • State and local consumer protection offices.
  • Your state or local Builders Association and/or Remodelors Council.
  • Your local Better Business Bureau.
  • Action line and consumer reporters. Check with your local newspaper, TV, and radio stations for contacts.
  • Local dispute resolution programs.
Next Steps
Contact a qualified real estate attorney to help you
navigate issues relating to home ownership.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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