What to Know Before Signing a Home Improvement Contract

It is important to be a very careful consumer when it comes to home improvement contractors. For instance, I had a case where my client, an elderly and blind woman, signed a contract and paid $30,000.00 to a home improvement company that disappeared with all of her money! Unfortunately, the company was a scam operation, my client lost her life’s savings and it will take some time in court before my client may ever see her money again however, her mistake will be a lesson to all of you because this article explains how to protect yourself from home improvement fraud.

Before signing any contract with a home improvement company, first ask that company for its license number and check it out with your State or County Consumer Affairs’ Business License Division. Find the License Division on the web or call information and get their number. You want to find out (1) the name and address of the company associated with the license number given to you, (2) if the company is currently licensed and the license expiration date and (3) whether any complaints have been made against that company. The answers to those questions will help you determine if you want to proceed with signing a contract. Make sure both the contractor and the company he works for are licensed to work in your State.

If your going to sign the contract then make sure certain things are included pursuant to your understanding and as required by your State’s Home Improvement Business Law. The contracting company’s name, address and phone number should be printed on the contract. Also, it is important that the contracting company’s home improvement license number is printed on the contract and that it is not different from the number you called and inquired about with Consumer Affairs. Lastly, make sure that all of the work to be performed is listed in the contract and that the approximate start and end dates of work are included. You should put a penalty clause in the contract regarding the contractor’s failure to timely complete the work because contractors are notorious for starting jobs and then leaving for a few days or weeks to do other jobs while you sit and wait in your dismantled kitchen for him to return. Once the contract terms are satisfactory then the contract should be signed by both you and the company’s representative.

An example of a consumer protection law is New York’s General Business Law §771 (“GBL”) requiring all home improvement contracts shall be in writing and contain certain terms of payment, fees for services and materials and start and completion dates, among other terms. GBL §771 is a consumer protection statute to prevent the misunderstandings between contractor had consumer and to protect the consumer from overreaching of the contractor, such as charging for work that was not agreed upon. GBL §771 limits the contractor who disregards its written contract requirements to satisfactorily proving to a court each and every item of work he did and the reasonable value of each item by detailed invoices, timesheets and proof of hourly rates, among other proofs. So, if the contractor who failed to put your home improvement work in writing attempts to collect $20,000.00 from you, he has to prove the value of his services in detail before scaring you into paying an amount you had no idea about. New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act and the Home Improvement Act protect the consumer even more by denying the contractor from recovering any monies if he violates any of the consumer laws AND he will pay three times the amount of damages (called treble damages) to the consumer for his failing to obtain proper permits or licenses or any other violation of those laws.

Lastly, protect yourself by not paying 100% upfront. Most contracting companies ask for a deposit upon your signing the contract. I suggest that you put down as little as possible and arrange a payment schedule with the company where you will pay a certain amount as certain work is completed. Of course, always get a receipt, signed by the company and stating the date and amount of any monies paid to the company if you pay anything in cash.

This article is certainly not all inclusive and is intended only as a brief explanation of the legal issue presented. Not all cases are alike and it is strongly recommended that you consult an attorney if you have any questions with respect to any legal matters.

Any questions and/or comments with respect to this topic or any other topic, contact:

Law Offices of Susan Chana Lask

853 Broadway, Suite 1516

New York, NY 10003

(212) 358-5762
Susan Chana Lask, Esq. c 2004

The Home Improvement Nightmare-Who’s To Blame and How To Avoid It

Unless you live in a remote part of the country with no television, newspaper or other people to talk to, there is a good chance you have heard or read about a home improvement scam or project gone wrong. It seems to be a fact in this country that when you go about doing a home improvement project you will usually encounter countless problems, delays and shoddy work.

The home improvement experience leaves most people stressed and vowing never to do another project again! So it is not surprising to hear that home improvement complaints rank at the top of consumer complaints nationwide year after year. Where does the blame fall for this epidemic of home improvement problems?

I am proud to say I was a home improvement contractor for almost 30 years and I was fortunate enough to win some of the industry’s highest awards. However, it has never ceased to amaze me the poor home improvement decisions that I have seen so many homeowners make. One of the more notable mistakes I would see done over and over again was when a homeowner would blindly hire someone to do a project because the person was a friend or a friend of a friend. To me this reasoning makes no sense.

Friendship and craftsmanship are not related, but for some reason a lot of people believe other wise. Another great example of homeowner apathy is hiring someone to do a project without ever putting anything in writing. Who in their right mind would ever agree to such a disastrous situation? Another very similar blunder would be for a homeowner to blindly accept an estimate on the back of a business card. Usually the only information that has room on the back of a business card is the PRICE.

A major mistake made by many people doing a home improvement project is letting price dictate the decision on who to hire. More problems occur because homeowners pick the lowest price they can find. Why? It is very simple. You can only produce a high quality project at a certain cost. High quality materials, expert labor, appropriate insurances and a reasonable profit to stay in business, cost a certain amount of money.

If someone can do that same project under that amount, what do you think is going to happen when the job is being done? That’s right, the person or company is going to do anything they can to try and make a profit. All of the possibilities that could result from the person you hired, as the low bidder, trying to make a profit, are simply all BAD for the homeowner. In home improvements you get exactly what you pay for.

Let’s not forget to put some of the blame on people looking to work on your home. Over the years I have seen some of my competitors commit heinous business practices. (Surprise!!) I have seen contractors switch materials to lesser quality without customer approval, use unqualified labor, overcharge homeowners for “unforeseen problems”, try to up sell the customer once the project starts, etc.,etc.,etc…….it makes you wonder if you can trust anyone?

So where does the blame fall for all the home improvement complaints year after year? I guess it would be easy to blame the homeowner for not educating themselves on what to do when attempting a project. However the next question would be where does a homeowner get “educated”? Maybe a better question would be when does a homeowner find the time to get “educated”? Education is a great tool if you have the time to do the research. Most people don’t have the time or want to take the time to do hours and hours of research on how to go about getting a home improvement done correctly.

Oops I almost forgot Uncle Sam. A lot of people, including myself, think the government makes it too easy for someone, who has no ethics or skills, to do home improvement work. Why are there still some states that do not have licensing for people doing home improvements? And in the states that do have licensing, why are some of these states issuing licenses without the applicant needing to demonstrate any type of competence in home improvement work? This is like giving out a driver’s license without taking a road test. Doesn’t make much sense to me.

One last situation to blame, one that I would never forgive myself for not mentioning. Home improvement television shows have become the latest fad in television. You can hardly change television channels without a home improvement program popping up. The influx of home improvement shows on television has been phenomenal. However, most of these shows tend to unrealistically glorify the home improvement project as being easy to do with nothing ever going wrong. The last time I looked, nothing ever goes perfect, including home improvement projects. Little, if any information is mentioned on these shows, about how not to be “taken to the cleaners” when doing a project.

One would have to conclude that there is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the problems homeowners face when attempting a home improvement project. Unfortunately, most of these problems have been around for many years and if you are expecting a “quick fix”, I think you might be waiting a very long time.

Since I retired from the home improvement industry two (2) years ago I decided it was time to stop worrying about who or what to blame about the constant wave of home improvement complaints (it really seems to be a waste of energy since nothing seems to change) and to put together a way for homeowners to fight back and get the home improvement results that they deserve.

This is why I founded The Home Improvement Success Club of America (TM). The club’s website, which I hope you will visit, can be found at http://www.homeimprovementsuccess.com. This is a one-of-a-kind club that guides homeowners on how to get high quality, problem free, home improvement results.

Membership to this club includes The Home Improvement Success System, a complete how-to home improvement system that details all the steps you need to take to make your project a success. The club membership also includes a web forum to ask questions, phone consultations, monthly newsletters, teleseminars, teleclasses and written evaluations of member estimates and contracts.

This club guarantees to short cut the time homeowners need to learn how to complete any home improvement project. You are shown what to do and what to avoid. All the information that you receive from this club you could spend months trying to find, but by joining this club it is at your finger tips 24/7.

To do a home improvement project correctly you need to follow five (5) steps. These steps are:

1. Define your project based on your needs, finances and structural constraints.

2. Determine who can complete the project.

3. Evaluate perspective candidates (including yourself) who you may want to use to complete the project.

4. Prepare a contract that is “thorough” and protects you from poor home improvement situations.

5. Completing certain tasks when the project is being built.

These five steps seem relatively easy to understand but it’s the “particulars” (exactly what to say and do) of each step where most people fall short. Knowing these “particulars” are what makes or breaks your project. Membership to this club will guide you to completing a home improvement project without all the problems and aggravation that most people go through.

If you are interested in protecting your home from the home improvement nightmare, than visit The Home Improvement Success Club of America Website. Joining this club is the next best thing to getting “Home Improvement Insurance”. All Club memberships come with a 30 day money back guarantee.

By Hank Jaworowski, CR
Founder and President of The Home Improvement Success Club of America(TM)

The Home Improvement Success Club of America(TM)
http://www.homeimprovementsuccess.com
e-mail:[email protected]
631-360-7722