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Attorney General William Sorrell Advises Consumers To Be Wary Of Home Improvement Fraud

CONTACT: , Consumer Assistance Program, (800) 649-2424

July 17, 2012

With the summer construction season underway, Attorney General William Sorrell is advising consumers to choose contractors carefully, and take steps to prevent and avoid home improvement fraud. Recent reports to the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) of potentially fraudulent “travelling” contractors soliciting work door-to-door underscore the importance of consumer awareness in combating home improvement fraud. “Fraudulent contractors rarely have money to compensate the homeowners they defraud. Savvy homeowners are the best defense against losses from this type of fraud,” said Attorney General Sorrell.

Home improvement complaints are regularly among the top categories of complaints reported to CAP. Most home improvement complaints are about disputes over payment for work that has not been performed, or poor work quality. While Vermont workers traditionally have a reputation of quality craftsmanship and hard work, there currently is no bonding or licensure requirement that sets minimum standards for contractors in Vermont. Following are some tips consumers can use to protect themselves from home improvement fraud and common home improvement project issues:

Avoid Home Improvement Rip-Offs - Less-than-reputable contractors may:

  • Solicit door-to-door.
  • Suggest they noticed a problem with your home while passing by.
  • Offer you discounts for finding other customers or promise that the job will be a "demonstration."
  • Claim to have materials left over from a previous job and will give you a great price to use up the remaining product.
  • Only accept cash payments.
  • Pressure you to make a decision on the spot.
  • Ask you to pay up front for the entire job or a substantial portion of the job.
  • Suggest that you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows.
  • Your Right to Cancel - Under Vermont’s Home Solicitation Sales Act, a consumer who makes an agreement to buy goods or services at his or her home or workplace is allowed to cancel that agreement within three business days.

    Selecting a Contractor - The best way to find a reputable contractor is by word of mouth. Ask friends and neighbors, who have had work done recently and were satisfied with the quality of the work, for the names of their contractors.

    Put it in Writing - Vermont law does not require home improvement contracts to be in writing. However, it is in everyone’s best interest if all of the terms of the agreement are written. Here are some recommendations as to what the contract should include:

  • The contractor’s name, address and phone number.
  • The total price and the payment schedule.
  • The estimated start and completion dates.
  • The process for handling change orders.
  • A detailed list of all materials including color, model, size and brand name.
  • Warranties on material and workmanship.
  • Notice of your three day right to cancel, as described earlier.
  • A Note on Estimates - Vermont does not have a law prohibiting a contractor from exceeding an estimate. In Vermont an estimate is just that—an estimate. If you want to make sure that the cost of your home improvement does not exceed a certain amount, write it into the contract that way.

    Paying for the Job - Almost all of the complaints about home improvement filed with CAP involve cases where the consumers report that they have paid, but the contractor has either not done the work or has not done the work properly. Complaints are rare in situations where the consumer has not yet paid. Here are some tips on payment to help you minimize your chances of becoming a victim:

  • Keep your down payment to the minimum possible.
  • If possible, make your payment upon completion of the work; or at the least make payments as the equivalent portion of the work is completed.
  • Don’t make the final payment until you are completely satisfied with the work.
  • If you are dealing with a disreputable contractor, the final payment is the only meaningful guarantee you have that he or she will complete the work.
  • Home Improvement Fraud Registry - A Registry of persons or companies convicted of fraudulent acts relating to home improvement is available online at http://www.atg.state.vt.us/assets/files/Home%20Improvement%20Fraud%20Registry.pdf, and accessible from the CAP website.

    For more information, or to file a consumer complaint, contact the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424 or by email at consumer@uvm.edu. Consumers can get up-to-the-minute alerts by following the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program on Twitter @vtconsumers or on the CAP website at www.uvm.edu/consumer.

      Website consulting provided by The National Association of Attorneys General.