The National Center for the Prevention of Home Improvement Fraud hosted the seminar Thursday evening at the Adairsville Police Department. Executive Director of the NCPHIF Phae Howard was compelled to begin the Georgia-based nonprofit after a contractor took advantage of her grandmother, leaving financial and emotional wounds.
“What we do is educate the homeowner, not only about contractor scams, but also give you information to cut down on miscommunication with reputable contractors,” Howard said. “We don’t recommend contractors. … But regardless where you find your contractor, you still need to vet them and for that we suggest, of course, that they have a contractor’s license and make sure they are insured and properly insured.”
Thursday’s workshop was NCPHIF’s second visit to Adairsville since the tornado. On their first trip, Howard met with more than a dozen homeowners consulting with them on the process of rebuilding or remodeling. This time, only one resident made it out to the workshop, which became a consulting session rather than a seminar as planned.
Adairsville resident and homeowner John Beasley spent nearly two hours with experts in the field of construction and insurance, learning how to choose and vet a general contractor for the job ahead. His family’s home was badly damaged from the tornado, but a structural inspection found it restorable. An extensive remodel is, however, in the near future.
“You definitely want, in this situation, a state-licensed contractor, which means they will have a pocket card and make sure you verify that with the secretary of state online,” said construction law attorney Kevin Veler. “Make sure they are state-licensed and not just holding a business license. It means they have passed a test and the state has verified that they are qualified to do your remodeling. It also means they have a minimum of $300,000 in general liability insurance … and it gives you the right to complain to the professional licensing board in the event they do not perform to contract.
“What you’re looking for is people who are committed to the profession and have the training. You don’t want some guy who says, ‘I just do this once in a while and I’m not really up on the standards.’ Or they’re in from out of state and they’re not in the community, because if they give you a warranty, good luck finding them.”
Offering advice on matters of insurance and a source for reputable contractors was Allstate agency owner Bruce Thompson. As immediate-past chairman of the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce, Thompson suggests anyone looking for a trustworthy contractor to seek the advice of their local chamber.
“In a small community like this, your chamber of commerce is much more helpful than some of your bigger organizations. Those big organizations are great, but the challenge with the big organization is it’s not in your community,” Thompson said, referring specifically to national trade associations. “When you have a legitimate complaint, it’s difficult to put pressure on Atlanta from Bartow County. … Pressure comes from the local community. These general contractors don’t want to see someone on the street or at church or in Publix if they’re not taking care of them.”
Howard and others involved in the workshop also warn not to make a decision based on emotional relationships, such as a close friend, family member or church member. Rather, they suggest securing at least three detailed estimates. Don’t reveal any budget or insurance claims, but ask contractors to submit estimates in writing detailing type and quality of materials to be used.
Once a contractor is selected, NCPHIF and others present Thursday suggest homeowners seek the counsel of an attorney to review a formal contract. Presenters warned to be on the lookout for red flags in a contract, such as large down payments, vague completion schedules and large contract-termination fees.
To help explain local policy and procedure, Bartow County Permit Technician Brandy Nation was on hand. She urged homeowners to seek advice in the matter of remodeling and repairs. Work done to structures without proper permitting can resurface years later when trying to resale or refinance a home.
She also gave advice for homeowners that are going through the permitting process. When using a general contractor, make sure the contractor secures the permit, not the home owner.
“Depending on the scope of work you’re doing, if a permit is required and you do pay a general contractor to oversee the work, do not come get the permit yourself,” Nation said. “Have the contractor pull the permit, because you want the contractor’s name on that permit so that he is responsible for the work. And we have lots of local contractors that are reputable, that people know and have been in business for 20 years.”
Beyond quotes and referrals, workshop organizers urge homeowners to investigate their contractor, especially for large jobs. Request references, contact them and ask to see their work. Thompson suggests going as far as requesting the permits the selected contractor has pulled in the past six months and visit the addresses listed on the permits.
Veler was adamant about documentation — keep records, journals and photographs of everything. Photograph the home at every step of the process. Take photos of subcontractors, cars and license plates; and never be afraid to ask questions, including inquiring about who is on the property and whether or not employees have had background checks.
Many more topics were covered from insurance to warranties, but Howard urged any homeowner with questions at any stage of the process to contact NCPHIF. For more information, call 404-902-6100 or visit www.preventcontractorfraud.org.