Posted by: jeb1 | July 5, 2012

Close the Door on Unlicensed Contractors

Close the Door on Unlicensed Contractors

Shreveport Times

June 28th, 2012

It seems like we’re always reading about contractors who have cheated Ark-La-Tex homeowners out of thousands of dollars after working on their roofs, driveways or air conditioning systems.

            Just last week, we learned more about a court case involving city housing inspectors who had been accused of conspiring with contractors by paying for work that was poorly done or not done at all. Charges against the inspectors were dropped, but charges are pending against the contractors.

If unscrupulous contactors can fool even the city government, what chance do the rest of us have when it comes to protecting ourselves against shoddy work or dishonest help? Unless you know a lot about home repair and construction, how can you tell if a contractor is offering quality work for a fair price?

Three words: Do your homework.

Sure, it’s quick and convenient to hire a guy who says he’s done work for your neighbors and can give you a cut-rate deal on leftover materials.

But here’s where you have some control over the quality of the work done at your home. Say, “No, thank you,” and close the door.

Your best bet for protecting yourself from home-improvement scam artists is to call a local remodeling, air conditioning, roofing, painting, paving or other company that is an established business and will schedule an appointment to meet you, assess your job and work up a firm price.  Also, make sure that they are licensed and fully insured.

Here are three common summertime scams to be on the lookout for as you take advantage of the warm weather to fix up your house and yard.

1. Air conditioning. For a regular check-up or an emergency repair, call a licensed air-conditioning technician. If the contractor finds a problem, you’ll get an explanation and an offer to replace a belt, add refrigerant or do another minor repair. For bigger glitches, you’ll get a written estimate and some time to think it over, and you’ll probably need to schedule an appointment for the work.
You’ll suffer a far bigger headache if you hire someone who knocks on your door offering to perform a tune-up or inspection for free. Without fail, the “contractor” will find a major problem during that “free” inspection. You’ll be told you need a new air conditioning system or a complicated repair that will cost thousands of dollars.

This is the oldest trick in the book.  Don’t fall for it.

2. Roofing. You’ll run into the same “opportunity” with roofing contractors after a big storm.The pitch: “I just did some work down the street for your neighbor, and I noticed your roof has the same problem.” If you hire the help, he’ll climb up onto your roof and come down with a report of leaks, broken shingles and other damage. I know one homeowner who says the contractor showed him a photo of the damage on the roof—only it wasn’t his roof! He knew because he had climbed up there to take a look the day before.  Most of us don’t climb onto the roof, so how would we know?

My advice is the same every time this happens: Hire a roofer who has a license from the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors (www.lslbc.louisiana.gov) who will show you proof of insurance. Call a local roofing company and ask for an appointment—and never hire a so-called roofer who shows up without an invitation.

               3. Painting. You don’t want to mess around with an exterior paint job in the Ark-La-Tex.  The sun does a number on exterior wood, so you need to protect your home by having it painted regularly with premium paint that can stand up to the harsh, outside elements.

If you’ve ever painted your own house, you know it’s not a job for amateurs. It requires scraping, sanding, patching, repairing, priming and maybe even some replacing before the first coat of paint touches the surface.

Hiring someone who offers you a “deal” on a paint job sets you up for wood trim that gets painted without any of that prep work. You could end up with a coat or two of watered-down paint that will look nice for a couple of months and then peel right off because the surface underneath. You’ll also have to have it repainted if you don’t want the summer sun to ruin your trim if it wasn’t tended to.

Again, you end up paying twice when you don’t take the time to research the contractor you allow to touch your most valuable asset—your home.

Whenever you hire a contractor, check for a valid Louisiana contractor’s license. Take some time to look for complaints about the worker with the state licensing board and the Better Business Bureau.  Also, a popular and new company review website is www.angieslist.com.  Look for any issues or complaints that companies’ clients may have had.  Does the contractor’s truck have a logo painted onto it? Many storm chasers have temporary, magnetic signs made so they’ll look like they have legitimate businesses. Also, check the license plate on the truck. If it’s not from Louisiana, you can expect to pay twice for your job: Once to the scam artist, and again to the licensed, local contractor you’ll have to hire to clean up the mess.

Jeb Breithaupt, B. Arch, MBA, has been president of Jeb Design/Build in Shreveport since 1983. You can contact him at 318-865-4914 or by visiting www.Jeb.net.

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