According to a recent survey conducted by the website Angie's List, many consumers plan to take advantage of deals made possible by the economic downturn by investing more in their homes this year compared to last. More than 50 percent of the members polled say now is a good time to make home improvement investments, whereas only 19 percent say it is a bad time to spend on home improvements.
“The downturn in the economy has created a good situation for consumers who are positioned to spend," said Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List, the nation’s leading provider of consumer reviews. "A lot of great contractors are looking for work, so they’re willing to negotiate and our members are ready for some deals."
But there's a downside for consumers, too, according to Hicks. "Just as there are good contractors looking for work, there are plenty of fly-by-night or unqualified contractors our there scouting, too. So homeowners need to be extra cautious and never hire based on price alone.”
For anyone planning to hire home improvement experts, Angie’s List offers the following tips for finding good contractors and avoiding the unqualified ones:
- Avoid door-to-door solicitors and those who only accept cash payments, offer discounts for finding customers or pressure you to make a quick decision.
- Verify the business is licensed to operate in your area.
- Ask the contractor you want to hire for several references from happy customers who have had worked completed, and check them. Visit the job sites if possible.
- Never sign a contract containing blank spaces.
- Get at least three different estimates for your job. And get it in writing. Documentation is often the best ammunition you have if things go wrong with the home improvement contractor. If you have to pay for it, be sure the fee comes off your final bill if you hire that contractor. Also, ask for a guarantee on an estimate. A good contractor will be willing to guarantee their price for 30 days.
If you run into problems:
- Let the home improvement contractor know you’re unhappy. Ask him or her to take specific action to remedy the situation.
- Follow up with a letter. Keep records of all written correspondence as well as receipts, canceled checks and credit card statements. If a business requests documents, send a copy, never an original. Keep a log of all conversations, including the date and time of the call, what was said and who you spoke with.
- Report suspected unethical or illegal behavior from a home improvement contractor to the proper authorities.