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Consumer News Release

For immediate release -- March, 2001.
Contact Bob Brammer, 515-281-6699

Prevent Home Repair Scams and Disputes

Spring is prime time for home repairs. That makes it prime time for outright scams or frustrating disputes. You can take action to avoid both problems.

Home repair scams by "itinerant" or traveling con-artists work like this: Con-artists stop at your door, give you a hard sell, and offer sensational low prices. It might be for roofing or painting, or asphalting your driveway. The con-artists insist that you pay in advance -- but they don't do the work, or they do minimal work and never return. Remember, legitimate contractors very rarely solicit door-to-door. Be skeptical! The main rules are to check out a contractor, and never to pay large sums in advance to a contractor you don't know. You can ask anyone to leave your property. Help older neighbors who might be pressured or intimidated into making payments by traveling con-artists.

Disputes with established local contractors may not be fraud, but they can be very frustrating and costly. Follow these tips to protect yourself when you hire a contractor:

  • Check out the contractor before you sign a contract or pay any money. Ask if the contractor is registered with the Iowa Dept. of Labor (800-562-4692, ext.25871). Check local references. Ask the Consumer Protection Division if it has complaints.
  • Get it in writing! Before any work begins, agree on a written contract detailing work to be done, responsibility for permits, costs, and any other promises. Request a copy of the contractor's liability insurance certificate. Put start and completion dates in writing and consequences if the contractor fails to follow them (example: the contract could be nullified if the contractor doesn't start on time.
  • Try to avoid paying large sums in advance to a contractor you don't know! If you have to make a partial advance payment for materials, make your check out to the supplier and the contractor. Insist on a "mechanic's lien waiver" in case the contractor fails to pay others for materials or labor. Be extremely cautious of financing offers from a contractor, including second mortgages. Check first with your own lender or attorney.
  • Remember, in most cases, you have three business days to cancel a contract signed at your home. (If the contract is canceled after three business days, contracts often contain a "liquidated damages" clause, meaning you may be liable for a percentage of the contract amount.)

For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. Call 515-281-5926. The Attorney General's web site is: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org.