Updated: 6:10 p.m. Friday, May 28, 2010 | Posted: 12:46 p.m. Friday, May 28, 2010
Do the research for home projects
By Ann Hardie
For the AJC
Homeowners are expected to spend more than $270 billion on remodeling projects
this year, according to industry estimates. Many will end up with shoddy
kitchens or half-done rec rooms.
Home improvement and repair businesses typically are among the top complaint
generators, according to the Better Business Bureau. That trend is expected
to continue as more homeowners brave remodeling projects to take advantage
of a marketplace overflowing with contractors desperate for work.
“The home improvement industry is going to be one of the leaders in the
economic recovery as people are fixing what needs to be fixed or getting
their homes shined up to compete in the market,” said Fred Elsberry,
president of the BBB’s region covering metro Atlanta. “Any time there is a
potential growth industry, people come in who are less than stellar.”
Getting a contractor to live up to his promises on the back end can be a
Pyrrhic victory. While juries tend to look favorably on homeowners, the time
and expense it takes to go to court often isn’t worth the trouble, said Sid
Barrett, a senior assistant state attorney general.
“In most residential construction disputes, the amount you are fighting over
is less than you are going to pay a lawyer to litigate,” said Barrett, who
heads the office’s consumer interest section. “It is just not cost
While all remodeling jobs are a pain, homeowners who do their research and
follow sound advice stand a better chance of being satisfied once the
pounding and paint fumes are gone. Here are a few of the basics:
● Get at least two estimates. The BBB offers Request-a-Quote, a free service
on its Web site. After completing a few simple steps, consumers receive bids
from qualified BBB-accredited businesses that have agreed to uphold high
standards and respond to customer concerns.
“We can’t make them do the right thing, but there is a lot of incentive for
them to do the right thing.” Elsberry said. “That is the way they
differentiate themselves from their competition.”
● Insist on references and follow up with them. Find out if the contractor did
a good job, finished on time and stuck to his prices. If there were
problems, find out if he came back and fixed them. “If the contractor says
no to providing references, run,” Barrett said.
● Do not pay for the entire project upfront. The BBB recommends the 3-3-3 rule
— one-third up front, one-third at the halfway mark, the balance after
completion. Always pay with a check or credit card so you have proof of
payment. Be wary of contractors who try to set you up with lenders or offer
discounts for finding other customers.
● Don’t automatically select the lowest bid. “If you go with the guy in the
pickup truck, you are taking a huge risk,” Barrett said.
● Draft a contract that clearly defines the scope of work and be as specific
as possible. “Otherwise the contractor is going to come to you every 10
minutes saying, this is extra,” Barrett said. He recommended a clause
specifying a reputable arbitration sponsor should differences arise.
● Make sure the contractor has liability insurance that covers damage to the
existing structure or a worker who gets injured. The insurance will not
cover poor workmanship.
● If the remodeling project requires a building permit, make sure the
contractor applies for it in his name. That way, if the contractor’s work
does not pass inspection, you cannot be held financially responsible if
corrections are required. It is illegal for a homeowner to obtain a building
permit and hire an unlicensed contractor.
Beginning in July 2008, Georgia began requiring certain contractors pass a
two-part exam and be licensed by a board composed of industry professionals
and consumers. Contractors who do major structural repairs, electrical work,
plumbing, heating and air conditioning work are among those who require
At the same time, state law exempts a host of “specialty” contractors from
licensure, including those who specialize in painting, roofing, sheetrock
repair, waterproofing and siding. Home improvement jobs costing less than
$2,500 do not require a state licensed contractor.
Consumers can file complaints about contractors with the board as well as
research whether licensed contractors ever received sanctions or
disciplinary action. The BBB recommends that consumers research its site for
histories on particular companies.
“It is incumbent upon us as homeowners to be our own line of defense,”
Elsberry said, “to make sure we don’t get taken advantage of.”
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