Tips can help ward off con artists

April 21, 1998

Experts advise following these steps when contracting for home improvement projects.

- Decide on a project and the amount you can comfortably spend. Write down the details of the work you want done before you contact home improvement contractors.

- Get estimates from at least three contractors. Make sure to find out if there's a charge for the estimate if you don't have the work done. Don't necessarily go with the lowest estimate.

- In Maryland and West Virginia, ask prospective contractors to show you their home improvement licenses. Check photo identification to make sure it matches the name on the license.


- In Maryland, call the Home Improvement Commission at 1-410-333-6309 to check on whether the license is current and on the complaint record of the contractor. In West Virginia, call 1-304-558-7890 to check licensing.

- Check references. Ask the contractor for names and telephone numbers of recent customers. Ask them about the quality of work and whether it was completed on time. You might want to go out and look at the work yourself.

- Carefully review each contractor's estimate, record and references before choosing the one you feel can provide the best work at a price you can afford.

- Always get a written contract before you permit work to proceed. Carefully read the entire document, including the fine print, before signing. Make sure the contract specifies the date the work will begin, details exactly the type of improvements to be made, the quality of materials to be used, the estimated completion date and a payment schedule.

- Certain types of work require local building permits. Check with your local licensing and permit department to see if a permit is needed for your project. If so, ask the contractor to show you a building permit before he begins work.

- Never pay the full price up front. In Maryland, it's unlawful for a contractor to get more than one-third of the cost before the job is finished.

- Contact your local building codes officer if you question the quality of the work performed.

- Call the police if you feel intimidated by a contractor.

- If you have a complaint about a home improvement contractor, call 1-410-333-6309 in Maryland, 800-368-8808 in West Virginia, and 1-800-441-2555 in Pennsylvania.

Source: Maryland Home Improvement Commission, Pennsylvania Bureau of Consumer Protection, West Virginia Consumer Protection Division.

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