With the weather warming up across the country, it is the start of the spring-cleaning season. This often includes making some home improvements, which can come with several risks.
Seniors who want to do some work around the house should understand their own limitations. An older person should recognize when something they used to do in the past is too much now. Just because a senior could climb up a ladder and clean the gutters last year, it does not mean it is still safe this year.
Before the start of any spring cleaning activity, each person should be honest and understand what they are asking of their body. If there is a higher risk of injury, seniors should ask for help.
Several nonprofits, like Rebuilding Together, help seniors and those who need extra help with home improvements. These organizations are often unique to one area, so be sure to find a recommended nonprofit near you.
Many seniors also need help with larger projects around the home during the spring, making them easy targets for fraud. Many businesses show up on doorsteps, thrusting their services on the unsuspecting and unprepared. To help, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) assembled tips people can follow when they consider hiring a contractor for projects around the house.
1. Plan your project from start to finish. (What do you need, specifically? You decide without sales pressure.)
2. Ask your neighbors, friends, co-workers, dentist, etc. for their experiences.
3. Starting with the phone book is better than trying a business that is going door-to-door (at least you’d know they were a local company, not ‘travelers’).
4. Get several bids in writing. Make sure you discuss the bid with the provider. Do not automatically choose the lowest bidder.
5. Ask the contractor how many projects like yours he/she has completed in the last year. Ask for several local references – and follow through on checking them.
6. Ask another customer whose project was similar to yours:
- Can I visit your home to see the completed job?
- Were you satisfied?
- Was the work completed on time?
- Did the contractor keep you informed along the way?
- Were there unexpected costs?
- Did workers show up on time?
- Did they clean up afterward?
- Would you recommend the contractor?
- Would you use the contractor again?
7. Ask about workers compensation insurance and coverage for property damage and personal liability (i.e., is the contractor fully bonded). In addition, ask to see the contractor's license, and make sure it is current. Rules on licensing and registration vary by area. Check with your municipal building office.
8. Call the local police for any recent problems people have had with the contractor.
You should beware of a contractor who:
1. Asks you to get the permit(s), since a competent contractor will get all the necessary permits before beginning work, and asking you to do it could mean that the contractor is not licensed or registered in your area.
2. Includes vaguely worded provisions, exclusions or limitations in contract that could later pose a problem. Make sure that confusing or ambiguous statements are deleted or clarified to your satisfaction.
3. Offers you a discount to find other customers.
4. "Just happens to have materials left over" from a previous job.
5. Only accepts cash payments, and/or asks for more than one-third payment down.
6. Offers exceptionally long guarantees.
7. Does not list a business number in the local telephone directory.
8. Tells you your job will be a "demonstration."
9. Pressures you for an immediate decision.
10. Suggests you borrow money from a lender who is associated with the contractor – you could lose your home through a home improvement loan scam.
For more information, find the website of your local BBB chapter at www.bbb.org.