Use caution when hiring a home improvement contractor

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By JOHANNA HAHN

BLACKSBURG, Va. — If you’re like most people, you’re hesitant to speak to the person who knocks on your door, offering an estimate for gutters, windows or a new roof. You should be hesitant. A home is a family’s most valuable financial asset. Be cautious when hiring someone to work on it.

Home improvement contractors often advertise in newspapers and on TV and the Internet. Don’t consider an ad an indication of work quality. Talk to others who have had similar improvement work done. Get written estimates from three firms. Ask for explanations if prices vary. Don’t automatically choose the lowest bidder. Sadly, not all contractors are reputable.

A less-than-reputable contractor:

– Solicits door-to-door.

– Offers discounts for referrals to other customers.

– Accepts only cash.

– Is not listed in the local telephone directory.

– Pressures you for an immediate decision.

– Asks you to pay for the entire job upfront.

Important factors

Here are a few “musts” when you hire a contractor:

Look for a well-established company that is licensed, insured and registered with the state. Visit the websites below for more information.

Find out how many projects like yours the company has completed in the last year and request contact information for several clients who had similar projects.

You have several payment options for home improvement projects. You can get your own loan or ask the contractor to arrange financing. For small projects, you may want to pay by check or credit card. Do not pay cash. Get a contract that spells out the who, what, where, when and how much of your project.

Keep copies of the contract and all correspondence, along with a log of phone calls. You might want to take dated photographs as the job progresses. These records will be important if you have problems during or after construction. If you have a problem, first try to resolve it with the contractor. Follow any phone conversations with a letter sent by certified mail with a return receipt. Keep a copy for your files.

Visit the Federal Trade Commission website at www.ftc.gov and search “home improvement,” or see the National Association of Home Builders at www.nahb.org/page.aspx/category/sectionID=126 for further resources.

(Johanna Hahn is a retired Senior Family and Consumer Sciences Extension agent who served the City of Newport News.)

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