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Tips to avoid home improvement scams

By LETITIA STEIN
Published March 20, 2006


Study tracks fraud against elderly
  • Don't allow strangers into your home.
  • Be wary of traveling handymen who show up at your door and offer to do jobs such as gutter repair, landscaping or installation of windows and home siding.
  • Call agencies to confirm unexpected visits by utility workers. Call law enforcement if you become suspicious.
  • Do some homework. Solicit at least two or three bids, check references and investigate company reputations with the Better Business Bureau toll-free at 1-800-955-5100 and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 1-800-435-7352.
  • Ask questions: How long have you been in business? What kind of workers compensation and liability insurance do you carry? How many projects like mine have you completed? Can I go see them? Are you a member of a national trade association?
  • Negotiate a good contract. Make sure all oral agreements and promises appear in writing, and read the contract carefully before signing it. The contract should specify that the contractor is responsible for obtaining necessary permits.
  • Plan ahead. Before work begins, define your budget by selecting all the products and materials you want. Include your selections in the contract to avoid confusion and needless changing of orders.
  • Steer clear of liens. After completion of a large job, withhold a portion of the payment (about 10 percent) for 30 days in case any liens emerge. If a contractor doesn't pay his or her subcontractors or workers, they may hold you responsible and place a lien against your home.
  • Pay the right way. Aim for a down payment of 10 percent or less, and schedule payments at weekly or monthly intervals or after completion of each phase of the project. Never make final payment until you are satisfied with the work done and know that all subcontractors and suppliers have been paid.

Sources: National Consumer Law Center (www.consumerlaw.org) Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) National Council on Aging (www.ncoa.org) Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

[Last modified March 20, 2006, 13:16:27]


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