By Jim Donovan
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- First comes the rain and the wind, next comes the con men. As the clean-up from Hurricane Sandy is underway, many homeowners will have to hire help to get the job done. If you're among them, 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan has important information that you need to know before hiring any contractor.
While the majority of home improvement contractors are hardworking and well-intentioned, storms like Sandy bring out the best and worst in people. The worst include scam artists who prey upon victims and are looking to make a quick buck.
Whether it's a tree that's crashed onto your home or the storm surge that ripped your house apart, you need to do some homework before hiring any contractor. Start by getting at least three estimates, and be sure to check out the companies online with the Better Business Bureau, Angie's List or Checkbook.org.
In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, home improvement contractors must be registered with the state attorney general's office.
All home improvement contracts should include:
- The contractor's home improvement registration number. In Pennsylvania, it begins with the letters PA; in New Jersey, it begins with 13VH.
- A detailed description of the work to be done, along with the materials that will be used and a price breakdown for labor and materials.
- The approximate start and completion dates.
- The name, telephone number and physical business address of the contractor and subcontractors.
- The total sales price and payment schedule.
If a contractor isn't registered with the state, DO NOT hire him or her!
As far as money is concerned, it's not uncommon for contractors to need money upfront to pay for materials. But I suggest that you never pay more than 1/3 upfront, and never pay in cash.
Finally, always stick to the contract. If you need to change something, change it in writing, and be sure that both you and the contractor sign it.
To check out a contractor in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, visit the links below:
Pennsylvania - www.attorneygeneral.gov/hiccon.aspx?id=4502
New Jersey - www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/HIC
Better Business Bureau - www.bbb.org
Angie's List - www.angieslist.com
Consumers' Checkbook - www.checkbook.org
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