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Consumer Alert: Watch out for home improvement scammers

As summer begins, many homeowners across Indiana will begin planning for home improvement and repair projects. For some, those projects may become needlessly expensive and frustrating if they hire an unscrupulous contractor who does not perform the work they promised. Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita is warning Hoosiers to take extra care and do their research before hiring a home improvement contractor.

“Each year, the Attorney General’s Office receives numerous complaints involving disputes between homeowners and home repair contractors,” said Attorney General Rokita. “Hoosiers can protect themselves by asking the right questions, doing their research before, and getting a written contract that defines the full scope of the work and specifications for the job.”

The Office of the Indiana Attorney General offers the following tips to avoid falling victim to a home repair scam:

  • Before signing a contract or making a payment, take your time and do your research. Contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at IndianaConsumer.com along with the Better Business Bureau for complaint information on contractors you are considering.
  • Get bids from local contractors. Avoid contractors who spontaneously show up at your door offering a “bargain” price for painting, driveway sealing, roof repairs, etc. They may not be insured, may not be well qualified, and may be difficult to locate in the event of a problem.
  • Get a written contract before making a payment. Indiana law requires home improvement contracts exceeding $150 to be in writing. Before signing the contract, make certain it includes:
    • The price of the job
    • Payment schedule
    • A detailed description of the work and materials (including colors, brand names and patterns)
    • Estimated start and completion dates
    • The contractor’s name and address
    • A name and telephone number of the person to contact if problems arise
    • The contractor’s e-mail address
    • The contractor’s signature
  • You have a right to cancel the contract within three business days. Be sure the contract includes notice of that right and a form for doing so.
  • Never pay for the entire project before the work begins. If a contractor insists on a substantial down payment, consider looking for another contractor. If you do make a down payment, remaining payments should be tied to completion of specified amounts of work.
  • If the contractor is arranging financing, the contractor should provide you with an installment sale contract disclosing the following credit terms:
    • Amount financed
    • Finance charge
    • Annual percentage rate
    • Total of payments
    • Total sale price, including any down payment
    • Payment amounts and due dates
  • Don’t make the final payment to the contractor until you know that all suppliers of materials and all subcontractors have been paid. You can insist on lien releases from each. If they have not been paid, they may file mechanic’s liens against your home.

Even if precautions are taken, problems may arise. Take time to talk to your contractor to resolve these issues. If problems continue, put your complaints in writing and send them to the contractor. Be sure to keep a copy of these complaints for your records.

The Consumer Protection Division of the Indiana Attorney General’s Office works to safeguard the rights of Indiana citizens every day. If you have questions or complaints regarding home improvement scams, or would like additional information and tips, visit www.IndianaConsumer.com.

About Brian Scott

I play on the radio from 7 am -1 pm weekdays on 98.9 FM WYRZ and WYRZ.org. Follow me on twitter @WYRZBrianScott or e-mail me at brian@wyrz.org.

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