Spring is prime time for home repairs -- and that makes
it prime time for outright scams or frustrating disputes.
You can take action to avoid both problems.
Home repair scams
by "itinerant" or traveling con-artists work like
this: Con-artists stop at your door, give you a hard sell,
and offer sensational low prices. It might be for roofing
or painting, or asphalting your driveway. The con-artists
insist that you pay in advance -- but they do little or
no work and never return. Remember, legitimate
contractors very rarely solicit door-to-door. Be skeptical.
The main rules are to check out a contractor, and never
to pay large sums in advance to a contractor you don't know.
Help older neighbors who might be pressured or intimidated
into paying traveling con-artists.
A few 'bad-apple' local contractors also take large advance payments but fail to do the work, or do just part of
a job or very shoddy work. This is hard to prove as fraud, but it's costly and frustrating. Follow these tips to
protect yourself when you hire a contractor:
- Check out the contractor before you sign a contract or pay any money. Ask if the contractor is registered
with the Labor Services Division of Iowa Workforce Develop-ment (800-562-4692, ext. 25871). Ask for
local references, and check them out. Call the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division to see if it
- Get it in writing. Before any work begins, agree on a written contract detailing work to be done,
responsibility for permits, costs, and any other promises. Request a copy of the contractor's liability
insurance certificate. Put start and completion dates in writing and consequences if the contractor fails to
follow them (example: the contract could be nullified if the contractor doesn't start on time.) If you sign a
contract at your home, in most cases you have three business days to cancel.
- Avoid paying large sums in advance if you don't know the contractor. If you have to make a partial
advance payment for materials, make your check out to the supplier and the contractor. Insist on a
"mechanic's lien waiver" in case the contractor fails to pay others for materials or labor.
- Be very cautious of credit or financing arranged by a contractor. This is an area of serious abuse by a
few contractors in Iowa who arrange credit with high-cost lenders. Such loans may have high interest
rates, steep up-front fees, and even costly brokers' fees. Check first with your attorney or a local lender
you can trust.