FORT WAYNE–Summer is the prime season for tackling home improvement and maintenance projects, and it’s also when scammers to take advantage of unwary homeowners, particularly the elderly who can’t do work themselves, warns Tony Messuri, president and owner of The Homeowner’s Helper, a free home improvement referral service based in Fort Wayne.
He said that con artists are active in northeast Indiana. In 2011, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Northeast Indiana received 387 complaints against plumbing, roofing, heating and air, general and other types of contractors. The BBB helped resolve 77.63 percent of the cases.
“That means nearly a quarter of people filing complaints are out of luck – and there are likely many more cases that go unreported,” Messuri said. “Homeowners can avoid being taken advantage of by contractors by exercising caution and carefully checking the reputation and work record of contractors before hiring them.”
Messuri offers the following advice:
- Check with people you trust for recommendations of contractors who have done work for them, however do not solely base your decision on these recommendations Work with local contractors when at all possible, and avoid door-to-door solicitors.
- Don’t hire the first contractor to approach you. Get at least two written bids – more for larger projects – and make sure they are based on the same specifications and warranty.
- Ask for references and check them out before signing a contract. Many contractors go door to door, often claiming to be doing work for neighbors. Don’t take their word for it.
- Check the company’s business record with consumer service agencies such as the Northeast Indiana Better Business Bureaunorthernindiana.bbb.org: (260) 423-4433 or (800) 552-4631.
- Ask the contractor for proof of liability insurance, and make sure the contractor is properly licensed to work in your community, if required.
- Insist on a signed, written contract before work begins. It should include exact costs, start and completion dates, a clear explanation of the work to be done and warranty information. Read it carefully before signing.
- Include a payment schedule in the contract based on work stages – with a final payment due upon the project’s completion. Don’t make a large payment up front. Don’t pay in cash, but rather by credit card or check.
“Another way to prevent problems with contractors is by working through a home improvement referral service like The Homeowner’s Helper,” Messuri said. “Services like ours work with contractors that we have prescreened and determined to have a proven record of quality work that they stand behind.”
However, he adds, not all referral services are alike, so homeowners should check their reputation with consumer agencies, such as the BBB, as they would an individual contractor. They should also look into the evaluation criteria a referral service uses in choosing recommended contractors.
“In addition, keep in mind that locally owned and operated referral services tend to be more in touch with monitoring the performance of the contractors in their network and offer more personalized service to consumers,” Messuri said.
For more information, visit www.thehomeownershelper.com/homeowner-resources.