On March 10th and 11th, I presented a series of seminars on How to Hire a Contractor at the DCU Center Spring Home Show. There were four seminars on Hiring Contractors and three on Design/Build remodeling. All but one was well attended. The How to Hire Seminar included a panel of consumer experts who volunteered their time to answer questions about their experience with consumer complaints from homeowners who had bad contractor experiences.
Our goal was to help homeowners acquire the knowledge they need to qualify contractors before they are hired to perform home improvements. Feedback was very positive.
Our guests were extremely wary of making the wrong choice when hiring a contractor. Their main concern was how to avoid becoming the victim of the nightmare contractor. The guests asked many questions and appeared determined to educate themselves with the tools neccessary to prevent a bad contractor experience.
According to government statistics, available at the Consumer Federation of America website, home improvement contractors are the most complained about industry in the nation. They outrank automobile salesman, and credit and lending complaints. From 1999 to 2004 home improvement contractors had the top ranking for three of the five years.
The panel of experts included a representative from the Better Business Bureau, the Attorney General’s Office, a consumer advocate and a litigation attorney. The homeowners asked questions about insurance, licensing, contractor registration, recourse, permitting, contracts and payment terms. The consistent nature of the questions gravitated around what can one do to avoid hiring the bad contractor.
A few suggestions from the panel of consumer advocates:
- The attorney stated that if he was brought in to represent a homeowner he may win the case but any award would soon be followed by bankruptcy of the contractor. His fee would be paid but more often than not there will be no funds available to pay the award to the homeowner. He suggested do your homework.
- The District Attorney stated there is only enough resources in their fund to prosecute 2-3% of the bad contractors discovered bilking homeowners. He suggested hire a registered and established firm.
- The Consumer Advocate volunteer said the only defense in avoiding a nightmare contractor experience is self education.
- The Better Business Bureau suggested check for complaints with public bureaus and obtain references.
- The consensus of the panel was that homeowners should do everything possible to check out their contractor by doing their homework. If you are the victim of an unscrupulous contractor, chances of recovering lost money is slim to none.
Allthough, there is no sure fire way to prevent bad contractor experiences, it makes sense that consumer education is the first line of defense for homeowners. In my next blog I will share tips on what questions a homeowner should ask when interviewing a contractor.