Claudette H. Reichel, Hurlbert, Deborah L., Tucker, Jeanette A., Cross, Deborah C., Stephens, Cynthia
Each year, hundreds of thousands of consumers complain to their state attorneys general about home-repair ripoffs. The National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators, in fact, says home repairs are second only to car repairs on the nation’s complaint list.
Con artists don’t look or sound like bad guys. If they did, they couldn’t con anyone. Many disguise themselves as friendly workers, offering you a good deal on repairs in and around your home.
Don’t be fooled! Investigate before investing in or agreeing to any job. Check with the Better Business Bureau, either in your area, or in the state and city where the company or person is located. Ask the contractor for references, and check them out personally. Call the past clients and ask if you could go to see the workmanship of the workers. Determine if they have performed in a timely and adequate manner.
Verify that a general (residential) contractor is licensed with the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors. Remodeling contractors who do work over $7,500 must be registered. Mold remediation contractors must be licensed. Visit the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractor's website for a searchable list. Ask about training or experience in complying with the wind and flood provisions of the current building code.
Obtain proof of insurance. The contractor should have disability and workers compensation insurance, or you may be liable for accidents occurring on your property.
Know how much you should pay by getting at least three estimates – in writing – with details about what is included. The best measure of one bid is two other bids. Keep shopping until you are sure of exactly what you need and the current rate for that type of work.
Time is on your side. Only con artists try to rush you. The longer you take to compare and think, the more likely you are to make the right decision. In an emergency, your insurance agent may be able to help with information about service firms that can do the work and typical cost ranges.
Is the offer too good to be true? Be sure the quality is there before you agree to buy.
Be suspicious if you see any of these warning signals or techniques often used by con artists:
Red Flag: Is the contractor offering you a special deal? Using your home as a model for his work? Shy away.
Watch out for rip-offs on:
Red Flag: Does the contractor want cash only? Find another contractor.
If you cannot find a contractor willing to accept these basic terms, make temporary repairs yourself, if possible, and wait patiently until you can be sure of a good job. Even under critical emergency conditions, complete, high quality repairs must be done, or damage and deterioration will appear later.
Did the contractor solicit your business, rather than you calling him? Were you pressured into signing a contract? Federal law gives you three days to cancel such a contract after you sign it. Send your notice of cancellation by registered mail.
Another important way to protect yourself from ripoffs and poor workmanship as well as innocent misunderstandings is to make sure everything is in writing.
There is no substitute for a written construction contract. The larger and more costly the job, the more detailed the contract should be. A thorough contract should include:
The most important precaution in contract writing is never to sign anything until you have read and understood every word. It is a good idea to take the contract home and think about it for a couple of days.
Keep a copy of the signed contract.
Do you think you’ve been had? Have attempts to resolve your problem with the contractor been unsuccessful? Don’t be embarrassed to call the Consumer Protection Section of the Attorney General’s Office at 225/342-9638 or the 24-hour Consumer Info-line 1-800-351-4889.