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Home Improvements: Tips for Avoiding Problems

Thinking of making some changes or having some work done on your home? If so, you'll do well to keep these tips in mind:

  • Decide what you want done. Explore options and possibilities before agreeing to having any work done.
  • Never agree to have work done on the spot. Don't be rushed into making a decision. Take time to think it over and research other options.
  • Shop around. Get at 2 or 3 estimates from reputable contractors. Estimates should include not only costs, but also specific information about the materials and services to be provided for the job.
  • Check references. Ask for the names of others for whom the contractor has done business. Ask friends and neighbors whom they have successfully hired for similar work. Contact the Tompkins/Cortland Builders & Remodelers Association for a list of their members who work in your area.
  • Sign a contract. Getting a written contract that specifies price, materials to be used, work to be done, timeline, and payment agreements protects both the consumer and contractor. Be sure you understand and agree to the terms of the contract BEFORE signing.
  • Don't pay unreasonable advance sums. Negotiate a payment schedule tied to the completion of specific stages of the job. Never pay the full price up front and never make the final payment until the job is satisfactorily completed.
  • Avoid the "Home Improvement" Loan Scam. If you need a loan in order to pay for the work needed, contact a local bank or lending institution. Agreeing to take a loan from a contractor that calls or knocks at your door is very risky.
  • Before you sign off and make the final payment, check these items:

º Does all work meet the standards set in the contract?
º Do you have written warranties for materials and workmanship?
º Do you have proof that all subcontractors and suppliers have been paid in full?
º Have you inspected the job? Is the work done to your satisfaction?

If you have a problem with your home improvement project, take these steps to resolve it:

1. Talk with the contractor. Many disputes can be handled by having a conversation with the contractor. Keep a log of dates, with whom the conversation took place, and what was agreed to.
2. If the problem is unresolved, follow up with a letter clearly stating the problem. Keep a copy for your files.
3. If still unresolved, consider contacting the local Home Builders Association (if the contractor is a member) or the Community Dispute Resolution Center.
4. If you feel you have been taken by a scam, report it! Contact the local authorities and the New York State Attorney General's Office at 1-800-771-7755. Others will be helped by your reporting the situation.

Remember: If It Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Probably Is!