Save Money & Get Quality Work - What Every Homeowner Should Know

We’ve all heard the stories: A man writes a check for a down payment on what he believes will soon be his new deck, only to find that the contractor disappears after digging a few holes for footings that never get poured. Another family contracts with a “company” to paint the exterior of their home, but three weeks later the job is only half finished and the painters seem to work on an erratic schedule. And then there is the widow who is warned by an unscrupulous carpenter that without extensive work, soon the damage to her house will be irreparable. Unlicensed, fly-by-night contractors are all too common in the Metropolitan area for several reasons:

Despite laws requiring the licensing of all who operate a business in each local jurisdiction, enforcement is inadequate because the State’s resources are stretched thin. The chances that a contractor would be caught operating without a license in this area are slim.

Even those who do take the trouble to obtain a business license are not subjected to any testing or required to provide proof of training or competence in most home improvement fields.

Some homeowners who are defrauded are too embarrassed to report the illegitimate contractors to the appropriate authorities. Legitimate contractors often find themselves bidding against people who can do work sometimes for substantially less, because of the way some of the “competition” are running their operation. Homeowners who have been burned in the past tend to view all contractors with suspicion and distrust, and even those who have been treated fairly in the past may consider legitimate operators overpriced. Therefore, honest contractors must rely on their reputation for honesty and the quality of their work.

Ironically, in some areas, opportunists have created a different scenario. In particularly affluent neighborhoods, homeowners actually may reject legitimate bids as being too low, and fall for a scheme known as “Zip Code Bidding” — also commonly known as “price gouging.”

Save Money: Plan Ahead

Planning ahead can save you money. If it is summer and you would like to schedule your interior painting for the winter months, or if it’s winter and you want to schedule your exterior painting for the spring through fall, we can offer you a contract now, and guarantee you the prices that are currently in effect.

What can you do to protect yourself, and get your work done for a fair and reasonable price?

- Get at least two bids and compare what they include. Low bids do not always take into account overhead such as taxes, insurance, and licensing fees. Some low bidders do not pay their employees an honest wage. At the same time, you should also not necessarily equate quality with price and be lured by the high bid. Many companies that come in as low bidder are competent and trustworthy and will do a superb job. The bottom line is that you should compare the bids and determine what accounts for any differences between them. Most often, a big discrepancy in estimates can be attributed to the services and materials being offered. If there appears to be no major difference other than price, you may want to get a third or even fourth bid to provide a better comparison. (A good guide that will help you make an informed decision is the evaluation form on the following page.)

- Make sure that any contractor you consider is properly licensed and insured, and that the firm’s workers are covered by workers compensation insurance. (This factor alone often accounts for a large discrepancy in estimates from company to company.)

- Inquire about the crew that will be coming to the home. Are they permanent employees, or does the company pick up day laborers on an as-needed basis?

- Ask for references of projects the company has done in the area. After checking references, and after comparing all the bids, consider one more fact: Do you feel comfortable with the person you are dealing with? Can what is probably your most significant investment — your home — be entrusted to that company?

Although there is no guarantee that taking all these precautions will offer complete assurance against problems, it is an excellent start.

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