Look twice at repair contracts
The breakup of winter ought to bring smiles to the face of the home-improvement industry.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet at the same time, it could spell dismay, or worse, for the unwary homeowner.
Many contractors are in trouble, reports Homer V. Lundberg, managing director of the Professional Remodelers Association (PRA) in Chicago.
Thus, now is a good time to get estimates on home repairs or improvements because contractors are less busy at this time of year. Also, because of the severe dip in home building over the last several years, people in the business are looking for work.
Good. But make sure you know with whom you're dealing, urge people in the home-improvement industry.
While the industry insists it has done a good job in routing out the ''bad guys,'' the fast-talking fly-by-nighters and suede-shoe operators still exist, nonetheless. The home-improvement industry is very mobile, for example, and people drop in and out of it, depending on the times. Even some of the good professionals may drop out for a while.
The fact that it doesn't take a great deal of money to set up shop and cruise the neighborhoods should be a red flag to the homeowner.
But this is not always so. Many people ignore the flag or do not even see it.
While the industry insists it has done a good job in routing out the ''bad guys,'' the fast-talking fly-by-nighters and suede-shoe operators still exist, nonetheless. The home-improvement industry is very mobile and people drop in and out of it, depending on the times. Even some of the good professionals may drop out for a while till the economy improves.
The fact that it doesn't take a great deal of money to set up shop and cruise the should be a red flag to the homeowner.
But this is not always so: Many people ignore the flag or do not even see it.
With house prices scraping the sky and interest rates not far behind, large numbers of homeowners are inclined to stay put and fix up the old place. Whether they sign up with a professional or do the work themselves, they owe it to their pocketbook to know what they're doing - before they make a deal. ''The consumer should watch out before getting caught up in a bad deal,'' warns Jack Anderson, president of Alcoa Building Products Inc., Pittsburgh, and 1981 president of the National Home Improvement Council.
Mr. Lundberg's group, the Chicago-based PRA, lists 14 checkpoints on the back cover of its membership list. Each is designed to help people avoid an all-too-frequent pitfall in home improvement. Among them are these:
* Are guarantees clearly stated in the contract?
* Does the written contract include all the oral promises made by the contracting firm or its salesmen?
* Have you read the contract and do you understand it? Have you been told how much the entire job will cost? Is it so stated in the contract? Including ''extras''?
* When signing, will you get a complete, readable copy? Will it be signed by a responsible official of the contracting firm?
Each of the 14 points requires a ''yes'' response to protect the homeowner.
This winter some people have had frozen pipes in places where this has never happened before. Thus, among other things, they know the house needs more insulation, weatherstripping, or other winterization that will have to be done this year.
''This is something they cannot put off,'' Jack Anderson of Alcoa adds. ''Aesthetic alterations are something else again and can be put off indefinitely.''
Before setting out on any significant home-improvement or remodeling project, the White House Office of the Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs suggests:
* Get in touch with your city or county building department and ask if a building permit is required for your job and whether zoning regulations affect what you want to do to your home.
* Call for at least three estimates from licensed contractors before beginning the job.