Home Improvements Gone Wrong?

Have you hired a contractor to do some home improvements, but after careful inspection, you noticed the work was subpar? Well, you’re not alone, according to the 13th annual Consumer Complaint Survey Report conducted by the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators and the Consumer Federation of America. Home improvement contracting was the top complaint category reported by state and local consumer protection agencies during 2003–2004.

“The most common problems stem from [poor] communication. [Homeowners] are thinking about what they are going to get done versus what the contractor is going to do. This goes back to the ‘scope of work’ section of the contract,” explains Glen Gallucci, president of Peak Properties in Teaneck, New Jersey (see Part 1 of this series, “Planning A Home Improvement Project,” Shopsmart, February 2007, for details). To avoid problems with getting the work corrected, don’t sign a final release until you are completely satisfied. Even if the work on your dream home has turned into a nightmare, there is hope:

Here are 5 tips to lead you in the right direction
Contact the contractor. Call and voice your concerns, but do not stop there. “Send the contractor a registered letter by certified mail and state what it is you are unhappy about and how they can fix it,” says Gallucci. Always keep copies of all letters sent and received, and make a note of conversations. “Give the contractor seven to 10 days to fix the problem, and if they choose not to fix the problem, let them know you are going to proceed with legal action,” says Gallucci.

File a complaint. If you and the contractor cannot come to a resolution, Gallucci says you should call the local or state consumer affairs protection agency, the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), and the state licensing agency to file a complaint. Keep in mind, however, that not all states require contractors to be licensed.

Go to the appropriate consumer agency. “The problem for consumers all across the country is that there are so many different licensing agents,” says Elizabeth Owen, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators. “Some states have strict licensing requirements, but it varies from state to state.” Visit www.ConsumerAction.gov for advice on filing a complaint or locating the appropriate office.
“Do not pay the final payment,” says former contractor and home improvement expert David Lupberger of Service Magic (www.servicemagic.com), an organization that provides a list of 45,000 pre-screened contractors in the U.S. and Canada. Lupberger says you should not pay the last payment until you are completely satisfied with the work. “If you haven’t paid the contractor the last payment, ideally, the last payment will be enough to hire another contractor to come in and complete the project.”

Take the contractor to court. The last resort is to take the contractor to small-claims court. Check to see if the amount of your claim falls within the dollar amount allowed in your state to file a small claim. “One of the most important things to do is take