There are few things more heartbreaking than to hire a tradesperson to do a long-awaited project and see that they have either done a terrible job or have left it unfinished and have left no information on when it will be completed. This is not only a problem for the homeowner but for the whole renovating trade as well.
Contractor complaints have not only been rising steady relating to tradespeople who are unlicensed but also for licensed contractors. In fact, according to a recent consumer study contractor complaints are rising at a rate faster than complaints against auto dealers, the first time this has even happened. And why is this? We were taught that when giving out licenses to contractors each state board is fanatical. That is true, but once the licensed contractors leave the office what guarantees are there that they will abide by ethical standards?
The big problem with contractor licenses is that they show that these people are qualified to complete a project under the existing building practices for the state in which they are working. This means that a general contractor in Idaho has passed all the requirements for building or renovating a specific type of structure. Therefore these contractors have proven they have the skills and the business sense for bidding on a project and completing it within budget. However, do they have the common sense to follow up on their qualifications?
If you look at other industries like real estate there are strict regulatory practices that realtors have to follow. Before a house sale is finished there are dozens of obligations that an individual realtor has to complete and the lawyers for both the buyer and the seller check up on each one. You would think that is there are watchdogs studying each sale of new and previously- owned home why are there no agencies watching over the people who build and renovate them? Why isn't the contractor builder under this scrutiny?
In good economic times many homeowners find it difficult find people to work on their homes, especially some of the smaller jobs. This demand entices inexperienced people into the construction or home maintenance business. Many of these workers-masquerading-as-contractors homeowners take on a job and then find out that they are over their respective heads. So, with deposit money in hand they simply. Sometimes the homeowners have paid the full shot for an unfinished project.
This trend is also happening with new home construction where in some cases a contractor's license is not as important to a homebuilder as getting the most square footage for the least amount of money. Instead of quality they want quantity and there is always someone out there that will take their money. So the homebuilder has saddled him or herself with unrealistic expectations and the original builder disappears. Then, to finish off the home so that it can be occupied, ends up costing more that a qualified builder would have charged. Even if the builder completes a bigger home for less money in most cases it will be difficult to get him or her come back to fix imperfections.
There are other scams like the ones perpetrated on the loans that HUD (U.S. Department of House and Urban Development) insures. Some unscrupulous contractors signed on with the program were performing unprofessional work, filling out documents with false information and then overcharging the homeowners. When this fraud was discovered by investigators thousands of families had been victimized and the taxpayers were out millions of dollars.
For the homeowner, it comes back to due diligence. You have to check out the contractor:
- Contractor Boards: Most states have a contractor's board. Check with the local contractor's board before asking for estimates or definitely before signing contracts with a contractor.
- Paperwork: Make sure the contractor's licenses are up to date. This means that he or she is licensed to work in the area and has a surety bond and liability insurance.
- History: Check the contractor's complaint history.
- Bids: Don't automatically accept the lowest bid. Check the references and phone them.
- Etiquette: Did the contractor return phone calls? Is he or she polite? Would you want to spend a month with this person in your home?
Steps for Contractor Complaints
Even good contractors make mistakes or forget things so here are some pointers:
- Be Reasonable: The worst thing to do is to read something into a situation that is not there. Many contractors want a reasonable solution to a problem so they can have you as a satisfied reference.
- Contract Dispute Resolution: If an agreement can't be reached between you and the contractor contact a contract dispute service at your local or state licensing board. These are different for each state. A neutral body will examine the situation.
- Civil Action: If the contractor was not licensed then the only recourse is civil action. However, with the amount of shoddy work being done the courts have been quite generous to homeowners as of late.