Consumers should be careful in choosing a contractor so they don't end up with someone who does shoddy work, exceeds agreed-on costs or takes longer than promised to complete the job.
More seriously, there are scammers who specifically try to exploit disasters such as the recent storms. They know that people who have experienced this type of devastation might be so desperate that they don't question the costs they're quoted or thoroughly check out the person they're hiring.
In addition to charging exorbitant prices, home repair scammers might charge for unnecessary repairs, do poor work or accept payment for work that never gets done.
So, how do you choose a competent builder and ensure you're getting a fair deal? It's important to do your homework first, especially since general contractors are currently not required to be licensed by the state. (Note: That will change as of January 1, 2008, although certain specialty occupations, such as roofers, painters, drywall contractors and repair handymen will still be exempt.)
Tips on choosing contractors:
- Ask the people you know - friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers - to give you referrals.
- Contact local trade organizations, such as the Metro Augusta Home Builders Association or the Home Builders Association of Georgia to find contractors.
- Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints against the business.
- Ask for references of customers who had projects similar to yours. Contact each reference and inspect the work if possible.
- Get written estimates from several companies for identical project specifications.
- Always insist on a contract for work to be performed, with all guarantees, warranties and promises in writing. Agree on start and completion dates and have them written into the contract.
- Make sure the contractor gets a building permit, and that he does so under his name or the name of his business.
- Ask to see proof of insurance (personal liability, workers' compensation and property damage).
- Have the contractor require any subcontractors to sign a lien waiver when payments are received. This will protect you and your assets in the event that the contractor does not pay his subcontractors.
- Changes to the project are to be expected, so be sure to anticipate how they will affect costs and deadlines.
- Consider setting payment terms in conjunction with completed stages of the job.
- When the job is done, make sure it matches the terms of the contract.
- Do not pay for work that is incomplete.
How to spot possible scams
- Work is unsolicited, repairman goes door to door. He may show you checks received from other neighbors as proof of his credibility.
- Business is not listed in the local phone directory or contractor refuses to give out his address.
- No written quote/contract.
- Contractor accepts only cash.
- Contractor offers special introductory offers or a discount valid only for today.
- Insistence that you pay in full before all work has been completed.
- Small job expands into huge job, or additional problems are later "discovered."
- High pressure sales tactics, scare tactics or threats.
- If you have been the victim of home repair fraud, contact the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs at (800) 869-1123.
- For additional information, call Bill Cloud, Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs, at (404) 656-3790.
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