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Home Repair Problems and Scams

The following information was discussed by Attorney Whitney Hughes on the June 17, 2008 edition of Legal Briefs on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live.

This time of year is perfect for making all of those much needed home repairs—whether you’re doing it yourself or hiring a professional to do the work.

Unfortunately, we hear frequently how unsavory characters prey on innocent homeowners or the elderly and leave them out of their hard earned money and stuck with repairs and projects uncompleted.

Below are some frequently asked questions and some helpful tips to navigate through those home repair headaches.

I finally decided to do something about my leaking roof, but I don’t know who to hire. There has been a contractor coming door to door in the neighborhood and he’s offered to give me a good price. Is this a good idea?

Keep in mind that you should ALWAYS be wary of door to door sales, but in the case of home repair issues, even more so.

First and foremost, never let an unfamiliar person into your home. Many unsavory characters prey on senior citizens who are essentially homebound and are in need of help around the house.

You should be very careful that what you would be purchasing from this person is actually what you need. Many times consumers are taken in by a smooth talking salesman who convinces them that they need much more than they actually do.

Generally, you will be best served by dealing with local contractors who have an actual place of business and who have been recommended by friends, family, or reputable building supply stores.

Also keep in mind that if you are unfortunate enough to have been tricked into signing a contract by a door to door salesperson, you do have the right to cancel a door to door purchase within three days of the purchase if the item sold is for $25.00 or more. The seller has to give you written notice of that right and must tell you that you have the right to cancel. As long as you return whatever goods have been sold to you in the same condition, you are entitled to a refund of the money you have paid out. Keep in mind thought that you must be able to find the person who sold you the items and took your money in order to get the refund. This is why it is so important to make sure you are dealing with someone reputable and who has an actual place of business. ALWAYS FEEL FREE TO SAY NO.

I need siding on my home and have found a company to do it. They’re offering to finance the improvement, but I’m a little nervous about letting them do that. Is it safe?

You’re right to be suspicious, and you must be very careful when a contractor or a repair company offers to finance a job. Some home improvement contracts involve the contractor or another lender getting a mortgage on the person’s property as security for the loan. In addition, particularly in the case of older homeowners who are dealing with a contractor, they may face a contract that is padded with additional charges above and beyond the price you negotiated, or an extremely high interest rate.

The federal Truth in Lending Act requires that you be given notice of the right to cancel any contract where a creditor could take an interest in your home. This means that if you’re using your home as collateral for the loan, you have to be told this explicitly and also given notice that you have the right to cancel this contract within three business days.

As with any other contract, make sure you read it carefully before you sign anything. It never hurts to have a second pair of eyes review it.

I’ve selected a contractor and he says he’s sending over the contract. What should I expect it to contain, and how can I protect myself it the work isn’t done or if the relationship goes sour?

A contract for home improvements or repair should, like any other contract set out parties’ expectations, rights, and responsibilities as clearly as possible.

It should specifically list:


Additional items to protect yourself:

What are some tips to help me when I'm planning on having work done by a contractor?

What are some red flags or warning signs that would tell me I should steer clear of a contractor or business?

As always, for a referral to an attorney practicing in the area of collections or consumer law, contact the Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555.