April  2006                           By Attorney General Tom Miller



Prevent Home Repair Scams and Disputes


            Spring is prime time for home repairs -- and that makes it prime time for outright scams or frustrating and costly disputes.  You can take action to avoid both problems.


             Home repair scams by traveling con-artists work like this:  Con-artists stop at your door, give you a hard sell, and offer sensational low prices.  It might be for roofing or painting, tree-trimming, or asphalting your driveway.  The con-artists insist that you pay in advance -- but they do little or no work and never return.  Remember, legitimate contractors very rarely solicit door-to-door.  Be skeptical.  The main rules are to check out a contractor, and never pay large sums in advance to a contractor you don’t know.   Help older neighbors who might be pressured or intimidated into paying traveling con-artists.


            A few ‘bad-apple’ local contractors also take large advance payments but fail to do the work, or do just part of a job or very shoddy work.  This is hard to prove as fraud, but it’s costly and frustrating.  Follow these tips to protect yourself when you hire a contractor:


C                   Beware of high-pressure sales tactics such as “today-only” discounts, offers to use your home as a “display home” for replacement siding or windows, and “lifetime warranty” offers that only last for the life of the company.  Always get several written estimates -- shop around for the best deal before making such a large investment.


C                   Check out a contractor before you sign a contract or pay any money.  Request local references -- and check them out.  Contact the Attorney General’s Office to see if it has complaints (call 515-281-5926, or 888-777-4590.)  Contact the Better Business Bureau (515-243-8137, or .)  Contact your county clerk of court and ask how to check if a contractor has been sued by unsatisfied customers.


C                   Get it in writing.  Before any work begins, agree on a written contract detailing work to be done, responsibility for permits, costs, and any other promises.  Ask for a copy of the contractor's liability insurance certificate.  Put start and completion dates in writing, and consequences if the contractor fails to meet them.  (Example:  the contract could be nullified if the contractor doesn't start on time.)   If you sign a contract at your home, in most cases you have three business days to cancel.


C                   Avoid paying large sums in advance if you don’t know the contractor.   If you have to make a partial advance payment for materials, make your check out to the supplier and the contractor.  Insist on a "mechanic's lien waiver" in case the contractor fails to pay others for materials or labor. 


For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, Des Moines, Iowa 50319.  Call 515-281-5926, or toll-free at 888-777-4590.  The web site


Consumer Protection Division ! Hoover Building ! Des Moines, Iowa 50319 ! 515/281-5926