Home Improvement Repairs / Hiring Someone To Do The Work

Most people take very little time to pick a home-improvement contractor.  This is unfortunate, because the decision on which repairman you choose to do your repairs is the decision that will have the most impact on when, how, how-cheaply and even IF the work gets done.   No matter what type of work is being done, you will have many decisions to make – what colors to paint, what materials to use, whether to make repairs or whether to build as new, what brands to buy, etc.  But, by far, the choice that you make about exactly WHO is going to do the work will be one of the most important decisions that you make.

    Home Improvement Contractors are unlike any other servicer provider that you choose.  Two aspects make the Home Repair Contract different that any other agreement you will enter into.  First: contractors are going to have access to the inside of your house, while they are working for you.  Second: the price, the materials, the completion date and (sometimes) the scope of the work to be done can all change (if everyone agrees, of course) after the work starts.  Because there can be so many changes, a lot of times home repair contracts  have vague terms.  In order to protect yourself, you should keep the following things in mind:

If you have any questions about this (or any other) issue; or would like to speak with a counselor, please send an e-mail to mwiseman@nhscleveland.org .  We will put you in touch with a counselor and help you the best way we can!

What To Look For

Three estimates – You should always have more than one repairman look at the job and give you an estimate.  You don’t always have to pick the lower price. But, you should be able to compare the repairman that you like with somebody else.  There are many things to look at besides just the price.  But, you won’t know if you are making the right decision, unless you have someone to compare them to.

Insurance – A responsible repairman should be ‘Bonded & Insured’. This means that you are protected if they don’t do the work that they are supposed to do; if they do bad or shoddy work, or if they cause damage to something else of yours, while they are doing the work that you hired them to do.  Luckily, it is easy for a contractor to show you that they are Bonded & Insured.  Just ask them to give you a copy of the proof that they are ‘Bonded & Insured’.  If they don’t show you a letter from an insurance company right away….call someone else!

City Permission – You should never let a home improvement contractor start work on your house, until your City has issued a permit. This does two very important things.  First: it means that any work that is done will have to be performed according to the standards that the City has created.  Second: it will mean that the you will be able to have a third-party (the City) inspect the work, before you make the final payment.   

Some contractors will tell you something like ‘it’s cheaper if I don’t have to get a permit’ or that the ‘City is terrible. They won’t let you do this’  But, this is a trick. What the contractor is really saying is ‘If you call the City, I won’t be able to cut any corners or rip you off by not finishing.’  Ask to see a copy of the permit before the Contractor starts and call the Building Department yourself to ask if a permit was granted AND to see when the inspection will happen.

Reputation – You should check up on the contractor.  Are they as good as they say?….or are their past customers still upset about the work that was done?; Will they do good work?…or do they have a ton of complaints against them?  Make some phone calls to these places to see what kind of work the contractor really does. You may be surprised at what you find.

  • The Cleveland Better Business Bureau
    • Does the contractor have any complaints against him?; and
    • What are the complaints?
    • Phone No. 216-241-7678 or 800-233-0361
    • Website: http://cleveland.bbb.org/
  • (If you live in the City of Cleveland) The Department of Community Development, Office of Fair Housing & Consumer Affairs
    • Does the City have any problem with this contractor?; and
    • What are the complaints?
    • Phone No. 216-664-4529
    • Website: http://www.city.cleveland.oh.us/CityofCleveland/Home/Government/CityAgencies/ConsumerAffairs
  • Ohio Attorney General
    • How many people have made complaints against the contractor?; and
    • What are the complaints?
    • Phone No. 1-800-282-0515
    • Website: http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/
  • Ohio Dept of Commerce
    • Do they have the proper state licenses to do the work?
    • Phone No.  614-644-2223
    • Website: http://www.com.ohio.gov/
  • Your City’s Building and Housing Dept.  To arrange for proper inspections
  • At least two friends, Just to make sure you are making the right decision

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What The Contract Should Contain

Details – Every home-improvement contract should have a complete written description of all of the work that you are paying for.   If a Court has to decide later on what work was supposed to be done on your home, the contract is the only thing that they will look to.  Vague language won’t cut it.  (see Table below) Do you want to protect yourself?  Make the repairman show you where each of the parts of the job is written in the contract before you sign.

Contract terms that do NOT protect the homeowner   Contract terms that help the homeowner slightly   Contract terms that REALLY help the homeowner
“Fix the bathroom”   “Determine cause of water leak from bathtub area and repair problem”   “Find and eliminate the cause of the water leaking from the upstairs bathroom to the kitchen. Repair, using new XYZ Brand parts and re-check problem 30 days after repairs are completed”
“Re-do Kitchen”   “Tear-out and replace Kitchen cabinets, counters and sink; replace dishwasher; replace backsplash on counter to the left of sink”   “Tear-out and replace Kitchen cabinets with new XYZ Brand cabinets and Hardware (hardware to be approved by customer before installation). Replace dishwasher with a new XYZ Brand washer – model # XXX.  Replace countertops with XYZ Brand counters. Replace Backsplash with XYZ tiles. Color and styles to be approved by customer prior to installation”
“Do Driveway”   “Remove 16 feet of driveway; grade, measure and repour concrete. Seal remaining drive”   “Remove existing driveway, install gravel base, install concrete with wire-mesh reinforcement. Apply broom/trowel finish (owner to choose).  Install XYZ sack mix concrete”
“Windows”   “Replace 8 downstairs windows with new high-grade ‘replacement’ windows.”   “Install 8 replacement windows with XYZ glass with/without Argon (owner to choose); cap existing exterior finish with matching coil stock aluminum”
“Fix Furnace”   “Replace furnace with Brand X furnace.”   “Replace furnace with Brand X furnace that is sized properly to the home with manual J calculations”

Promises spelled out in writing – Ohio law says that if it is not written in the contract, it is not part of the agreement.  In other words, any part of the job that is not spelled out in the contract (this includes ANY VERBAL PROMISES that the repairman makes) do not exist.  If there is something that you are counting on; or if there are one or two details that you are basing your decision on – make them write it into the contract.  If there isn’t room in the contract to write in every term that you want spelled out……Too bad! Tell them to write it into the margins and initial it.

Dates for payments to be made –  Remember: The money that you will use to pay for the job is YOUR MONEY, until the job is completely done.  If they want you to pay the entire amount, before the work starts, tell them “Nothin’ Doin’!  It’s my money!”  Tell them that you will only agree to pay a percentage as a down-payment (usually between 10% and 30%); another percentage when they are half-way through and the rest AFTER the City inspector has given the project his blessing.  In addition, any payment schedule should also be in the written contract.   

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How To Pay For The Work

What if you have to borrow money to pay for the work?  If the total cost is expensive and your credit is good enough to consider taking out a loan, you can do it in one of two ways.  You can take out a loan with or without a mortgage.  In any case, if you borrow money to pay for home repairs, you should contact a local non-profit counselor and spend some time working on your credit, so you can get the best interest rate possible.  In addition, a counselor will help you find a finance company or bank that is not trying to rip you off. 

Here are a few tips to help you, in any case. 

If you consider using a mortgage on your home to pay for the job, make it a ‘Second Mortgage’ – Many finance companies try to convince people to refinance their entire first mortgage, even if they only want to borrow a small amount of money.  But, the costs and fees that you will pay to refinance your entire first mortgage will not be worth it.  The costs of getting a Second Mortgage will be much lower. 

If you are taking out a loan (and not using a mortgage), do NOT put other bills into the new loan – If you take out a loan to pay for the job, try to only borrow the amount of money that you need for that job.  It’s an old trick to get you to consolidate some other bills (credit card; auto loan, etc.) into your home-improvement loan.  But, the higher the loan amount, the more their commission is.  If they start talking fancy about how cheaper it’ll be just to pay off all of your other loans, you should be thinking about getting a new contractor.

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Protect Yourself

  • Make sure there is a written contract; and make sure it spells out exactly what the workers are going to do
  • Don’t pay more than half, before the work starts
  • Only pay the rest, after the work is done and you are happy
  • Make sure your City inspectors have looked at the job, before it starts and before you pay the full amount

What’s the law?

The Home Solicitation Sales Act, which is part of the Consumer Sales Practices Act (sections 1345.21 – .28) covers any home repairs, if you sign up for (or buy) the repairs, while you are at home; and it gives you three days to cancel the contract.