Avoiding Home Repair Fraud

December 1, 2010

The storms that recently struck some Georgia communities have put a number of residents in the position of having to repair and rebuild homes that were damaged.  This is a good time for all Georgians to be reminded of how to choose a reputable contractor so that you don’t end up with someone who does shoddy work, exceeds agreed-upon costs or takes longer than promised to complete the job. More seriously, there are scammers who specifically try to exploit disasters such as the recent storms. They know that people who have experienced this type of devastation may be so desperate to get their lives back to normal that they don’t question the costs they’re quoted or thoroughly check out the person they’re hiring. In addition to charging exorbitant prices, home repair scammers may charge for unnecessary repairs, do sub-standard work or accept payment for work that never gets done.


So, how do you choose a competent builder and ensure you’re getting a fair deal? It’s important to do your homework first.


Tips on Choosing a Contractor:

  • Ask friends, neighbors and coworkers for referrals.
  • Contact local trade organizations, such as the Home Builders Association of Georgia, to find contractors in your area.
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints against the business.
  • General contractors, electricians, plumbers and heating and air conditioning contractors must be licensed through the Secretary of State. You can go to the Secretary of State’s website at www.sos.georgia.gov to verify that a contractor has a valid, up-to-date license. Note that certain specialty occupations such as roofers, painters, drywall contractors and repair handymen are not required to be licensed by the state. 
  • Ask to see the contractor’s business license and then check with the county or city business license department to make sure it is valid.
  • Ask for references of customers who had projects similar to yours.  Contact each reference and inspect the work if possible.
  • Get written estimates from several companies for identical project specifications.
  • Always insist on a contract for work to be performed, with all guarantees, warranties and promises in writing. Agree on start and completion dates and have them written into the contract.
  • Make sure contractor gets a building permit, and that he does so under his name or the name of his business.
  • Ask to see proof of insurance (personal liability, workers’ compensation and property damage).
  • Consider setting payment terms in conjunction with completed stages of the job.
  • When the job is done, make sure it matches the terms of the contract.
  • Do not pay for any work that is incomplete.

How to Spot a Scam:

  • Work is unsolicited, repairman goes door-to-door. He may show you checks received from other neighbors as proof of his credibility.
  • Business is not listed in the local phone directory or contractor refuses to give out his address.
  • No written quote/contract.
  • Contractor only accepts cash as payment.
  • Contractor offers special introductory offers or a discount valid only for today.
  • Insistence that you pay in full before all work has been completed.
  • Small job expands into huge job, or additional problems are later “discovered”.
  • High pressure sales tactics, scare tactics or threats.