2013-05-09 / Columns


A column on consumer issues
By Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s Consumer Protection and Antitrust Division

Home improvement time brings on scams

It’s the time of year when homeowners are focusing on household projects that need to be started or completed. But what many homeowners don’t realize is that bogus and substandard services and products for the home rank high among the leading causes of consumer complaints.

A contractor must be licensed in the state of North Dakota if they perform work on a project totaling $2,000 or more. This licensing is done through the Secretary of State’s office and it is important that you check with that agency to make sure the contractor you plan to hire is licensed. You may contact the Secretary of State’s Licensing Division at 701-328-2900 or 1-800-352-0867.

Many unlicensed contractors place their ads in local newspapers and place their business cards at home improvement stores. They tend to use the cheapest method of advertising available to them.

Scam artists are everywhere, and there are signs of fraud that consumers can look for and steps they can take to avoid being victimized. Those signs of fraud include:

• Someone who comes to your door and claims to have just finished a roofing (or driveway paving, painting, or siding) job down the street, and because he or she has material left over, can give you a great price.

• Salespeople trying to pressure you into signing a contract with scare tactics or threats like “this price is available only if you sign today.”

• An offer of discounts for finding other customers.

• Only accepts cash payments.

• Asks you to get the required building permits.

• Offers you exceptionally long guarantees.

• Contractors who won’t give you references.

• Contractors for whom you can find no proof of licenses, bonding, or insurance.

• An offer that says full payment is required before work is done “to get this fantastic price.”

To get the job done right, know what you want before talking to contractors. Get detailed estimates from several reputable licensed contractors. Ask for references and check them. Find out the licensing, permit, and inspection requirements from your local building department. Check your liability coverage for worker injury with your home insurance company, and be sure your contractor has the necessary insurance for workers and subcontractors. Insist on a complete, written contract. The contract should include:

• Work to be done and materials to be used.

• Timetables and payment schedules.

• Names of any subcontractors.

• Construction completion date.

• Financing information and any warranty agreements.

• Stipulation that all necessary permits or licenses will be obtained, and the job site will be cleaned after the job is completed.

Before you sign off and make the final payment, make sure the job is complete to your specifications. Here are some things to consider.

• All of the work meets the standards spelled out in the contract.

• Written warranties for materials and workmanship have been given to you.

• You have proof that all subcontractors and suppliers have been paid.

• The job site has been cleaned up and cleared of excess materials, tools, and equipment.

• You have inspected and approved the completed work.

Don’t be taken by a classic form of consumer abuse. As you focus on your home improvement project, research your project, get all important information in writing and pay attention to signs of fraud that may come along.

The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division investigates allegations of fraud in the marketplace. Investigators also mediate individual complaints against businesses. If you have a consumer problem or question, call the Consumer Protection Division at 328-3404, toll-free at 1- 800- 472- 2600, or 1-800-366-6888 (w/TTY). This article and other consumer information is located on our website at www. ag.nd.gov.

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