Friday, July 18, 2008

Home Improvement Horrors - Part Four

Westchester, NY, has 6,700 licensed home-improvement contractors, but there are plenty of operators out there who aren’t. Why does a county license matter? Before the county issues one, they do a background check on the applicant for a criminal record, make sure the contractor is insured, and see there are no outstanding judgments against them. “We also look at the contractor’s complaint record,” Consumer Protection Director Gary Powers says. “If there is a pattern of unresolved complaints, that could be a reason for us to deny a license.”

Leona Hess, founder of the Westchester Chapter of the National Kitchen and Bath Association, recommends questioning the contractor closely and specifically. “There are customers who have expectations that are too high; things just can’t physically be done. But some contractors will say anything to get the job, so both sides have to be fair and open.”

You should find out not only how long the contractor has been in business, but how much experience he has with jobs like yours. “It doesn’t make sense to hire a contractor to do a kitchen, for example, if he specializes in doing additions. It’s not the same” Ken Kroog says. Kroog is chairman of the Mid-Hudson chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Another item to look for are professional credentials that mean something. A county home improvement license doesn’t guarantee the contractor can drive a nail straight. Organizations like Kroog’s NARI and Hess’ NKBA provide technical coursework and certification programs for their members that help insure they know what they’re doing.

Even the biggest and best don’t always deliver, though. One homeowner's renovation included extensive heating and cooling work, for which she hired a company that was like an octopus where none of the tentacles knew what the others were doing. “We walked into our dining room one day to find a man drilling a hole into the wall to install a thermostat that had already been in place in another room for a number of weeks,” she relates. “He was unaware that there even was another system in the house.”

They had four separate “start up” visits from the contractor, but workmen frequently showed up without the right tools or parts for the job they were supposed to do on a given day. “ The final straw came when one of the workmen put the wrong thermostat in the wrong place,” she says. “He just installed the one he happened to have in his truck and told me not worry about it—-it was the same thing.” It wasn’t, of course. “To him it didn’t matter, but I’m going to have to use that thermostat for the next ten years or whatever. It’s the nitty-gritty details that raise your stress level.”

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