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Consumer Affairs offers tips on home improvement contracts

2/23/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

GREATER AKRON — The Summit County Office of Consumer Affairs has released a new resource to help property owners dealing with home improvement difficulties.

The Home Improvement Factsheet includes tips and suggestions to make the business of any home project smoother, according to Cynthia Sich, the office’s director.

“Statistically, more complaints have been filed regarding home improvements than any other category since the office was established,” Sich said.

Complaints regarding home repairs and improvements have always been in the top two slots of the annual “top 10” list of consumer complaints compiled by the office, Sich said. For 2011, home improvements and repairs came in second of the most complaints.

The fact sheet addresses issues the office has determined through its mediation and investigation efforts to be the most important points that consumers need to be aware of, Sich said.

One of the items that Sich said many consumers don’t know about is the three-day right to cancel a contract. When a consumer is solicited at home, the contract must have the proper wording informing consumers of this right.

Property owners should also realize that it may be necessary for a contractor to obtain building permits prior to beginning a project.

On the factsheet, the Office of Consumer Affairs recommends calling the office at 330-643-2879 to see if there have been any complaints against a contractor. Sich also recommends consumers ask friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to recommend a contractor. Another recommendation is to ask for a referral from a trade organization.

Getting more than one estimate is also important, Sich said. Her office recommends getting three written estimates. She especially recommends seeking additional quotes when the replacement of a furnace, air conditioning unit or roof has been recommended.

To see if a contractor is registered to do business in the county and to see if the job you are doing needs a permit, call the Summit County Division of Building Standards at 330-630-7077 or go to www.co.summit.oh.us/executive/bldgstds.htm.

Consumer Affairs also recommends what consumers should look for in a contract. It should have the contractor’s name, address and telephone number; a detailed list of materials including color, model, size, brand name and product; what the contractor will and will not do with costs; a provision requiring written approval for any changes; any oral statements or promises added to the contract in writing; start and completion dates; and the three-day cancellation notice and procedures to follow should you decide to cancel.

Sich added that it’s typical to be asked to pay a minimal down payment. She advises using a credit card so that you can dispute the payment if there is a problem.

Before you pay the contractor in full, Sich recommends getting copies of warranties for materials and workmanship as well as proof that all subcontractors and suppliers for the job have been paid. Also, make sure the job has been completed and the site has been cleaned of excess materials, tools and equipment.

More information is available at www.co.summit.oh.us/conaffairs.htm.

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