Recent legal issues show why consumers need to be careful when hiring someone for home-improvement projects.
Two recent news stories should remind consumers they need to be vigilant when hiring someone to renovate or build an addition to their home.
Erie contractor Lloyd A. Davis faces up to 348 years in prison and could pay more than $1.2 million in fines and restitution after pleading no contest to bilking 40 customers out of money they paid him for home-improvement work between 2013 and January 2017.
Davis, 60, had originally faced 284 criminal charges before reaching an agreement with prosecutors. He is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 2.
Christopher Luzier, doing business as Luzier Construction of Saegertown, is one of 31 contractors cited by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office for failing to register as required by state law. He faces a fine of at least $500.
I have written about contractor problems in several previous columns, but it remains one of the most common complaints I hear from readers. So many of them feel they have been swindled by contractors who either take their down payment and disappear, perform shoddy work or charge more than they originally promise.
Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission and Attorney General’s Office that should improve your chances of hiring a good contractor:
Make sure the contractor is registered with the Attorney General’s Office. All contractors doing business in Pennsylvania who earn $5,000 or more a year are required to register every other year as part of the state’s Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act.
Hiring a registered contractor doesn’t prevent fraud but it requires the contractor to follow certain procedures, which include offering customers a three-day window to cancel the project without penalty.
You can also check their qualifications by visiting www.attorneygeneral.gov.
Talk with friends and family members who have hired contractors. Word of mouth is a good way to learn about a contractor’s quality of work and trustworthiness.
Ask people you know about their experience and look at the work they had done, if possible.
Get written estimates from several different contractors. Three is a good number, as long as you make sure it’s for the exact same work.
The lowest bid might not be the best deal. Ask for reasons why the prices are different.
Don’t pay too much up front. State law limits the down payment to one-third of the total price.
Make subsequent payments dependent on completion of defined amounts of work. Also, make sure to get a written contract.
Keep written records of the project. Store all change orders, payment receipts and other correspondence in one place.
Write down details of any phone calls and in-person conversations, and take photos of the job as it progresses.
Don’t make the final payment until you are satisfied. That includes making sure all work is completed, the work site has been cleaned and you have copies of all important warranties.
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