Monday, March 12, 2012

Who Wants to Get Ripped-Off?

Even when times are good, no one likes paying more than they have to, but during a recession, when our limited means are being stretched to the limit, no one REALLY likes to be taken advantage of. At least if “the powers that be” admitted we were in a depression, we could be depressed, but no, we’re only in a recession, so we can only be recessed.1 It makes it sound like you’re going out to the school yard to play instead of struggling to find the funds to fix up your home. Even that’s a rip-off!
So, how do you avoid being taken advantage of when remodeling your home? Is it really necessary for you to become an expert in every facet of the project you’re undertaking? Who has time for that? What you really need to do is find someone that you can trust to handle your project, and the best way to do that is to use a little common sense.
Prior to calling prospective contractors, ask friends who have done similar work for referrals. If they have had a good experience, chances are you will as well. But if they had problems with their contractor, like hidden fees and missed deadlines, keep looking. Check with professional organizations (like the National Kitchen & Bath Association) for members in your area. Call the local department of consumer affairs to find out what type of licenses are required for the work that you’re considering and make sure that the company you hire is properly licensed. Also, check to see that they have liability insurance and that their workers are covered by Worker’s Compensation and disability insurance.
            When you have compiled a “short-list” of contractors to call, leave yourself enough time so that you don’t have to rush into a decision. Set up a meeting with the contractors to get estimates and, more importantly, see if you feel comfortable with them. The relationship between you and your contractor is the key to a successful job. If you start with someone who doesn’t return calls, shows up late and has no patience for your questions before you hire them, don’t expect much more after you’ve given them a check.
            When you’ve narrowed it down to a couple of choices, its time to check references. Ask the contractor to supply you with the names of people that they have worked for. Of course, just getting the names won’t help you much if you don’t call them. And, since you’re on the phone anyway, call the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any legitimate complaints lodged against the contractors.
            Once you have selected a firm, insist on a written contract that specifies exactly what’s going to be done at your home. If you have any doubts…put it in writing. The more explicit the contract and work orders are, the less chance of misunderstandings after the work commences. Reputable firms also use “Change Orders” for any deviations to the original contract which require both you and the contractor to sign. Don’t be afraid of the paperwork, its purpose is to protect both you and the legitimate contractor.
            If you do your homework, and select a reputable contractor, your project will be a successful one, and chances are you won’t be ripped-off. However, even with a great contractor, don’t expect that any job will go without some glitches. Anyone who promises a major renovation with no problems at all is not being entirely honest, there are just too many variables. But, when you’re dealing with a legitimate contractor any problems that do arise will be dealt with quickly and efficiently, and in the end you will be thankful that you put a little extra effort in selecting them.
1 In researching the material for this month’s column I discussed the current economic conditions with my mom, who will be 98 in June. She commented, “you have no right to complain, I lived through the real depression, and yes, it was pretty depressing.”