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Exercising Caution, Avoiding Scams When Choosing A Contractor

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The chirping of the birds, the squirrels, rabbits and deer wandering through neighborhoods, and the rip-off by contractors. It must be springtime in Western Pennsylvania.

The Better Business Bureau is sounding the warning siren of buyer beware as homeowners enter contracts to get a summer full of work done on their homes.

Caitlin Driscoll with the BBB says often if the price sounds too good to be true it is, "And unfortunately, in many of those instances, the work is either never performed or. It never ends up being completed after that deposit is made."

Driscoll says especially be wary of contractors arriving at your door with leftover supplies from another job. "Especially when it comes to roofing repairs, repaving, resealing, driveway work, anything involving door to door solicitation, definitely do some additional research on that contractor."

Besides checking out the contractor with the BBB website, the PA Attorney General's website has the list of all contractors registered to work in the Commonwealth.

And Driscoll says make sure to see some proof of insurance. "So it should cover workman's compensation, property damage, personal liability , and really this is to protect both you as the homeowner, as well as the company."

Once you know the contractor is reputable, know that the most common victim of rip offs they hear from "is a consumer who went with the first estimate that they received. Really be cautious of any contractors who are trying to pressure you into committing on the spot, making a payment, signing a contract immediately."

In fact she says, "Solicit at least three bids for estimates from prospective contractors, and make sure they're based on their same building specifications, materials, labor time needed to complete the project."

When you settle on someone to do the work, Driscoll says get everything, EVERYTHING, in writing. "Every verbal promise and make sure you understand them in the contract." When you sign make sure you get a signed contract to keep.

As for paying Driscoll says, "Pay by credit card so you have the most recourse if there are any potential issues, make sure you keep documentation, request receipts of any payment that you make as well."

Watch as KDKA's John Shumway reports:


And when it comes to how much you pay and when. Driscoll says never pay the full amount upfront.

"For a contract of more than $5,000, a contractor is legally not allowed to accept a deposit in excess of 1/3 of that contract price, or 1/3 of that price, plus the cost of any special order materials."

Spell out the construction timeline but understand weather often gets involved so you have to be flexible.

But that flexibility has a legal limit says Driscoll, "If 45 days have passed since work was to begin as it was listed in your contract and no substantial portion of that work has been performed, you as the customer able to request a refund in writing."

The contractor then has ten days to return your money.

Again don't be rushed into signing a contract, read the contract thoroughly, get other estimates, get everything in writing, and don't pay for everything upfront.

Click here to search for contractor's on the Better Business Bureau's website.

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