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About a Home Improvement?Don't Get Nailed
If you live in
Washington, D.C. and are thinking about making improvements to your home, selecting a
contractor is the first and most important step in the process. The Federal Trade
Commission offers the following tips and checklist to help you along.
Deal only with licensed contractors. Make sure that
any contractor youre considering has a current license to operate in the District.
Call the D.C. Business Services Division at 727-7070 to find out. According to D.C. law,
only licensed contractors and salespeople can require and accept any payments before the
job is completed.
Dont assume that all contractors who
advertise in the "home improvement" section of the D.C. Yellow Pages have a
valid license or that theyre reputable. Check out licensed contractors with the D.C.
Better Business Bureau. Youll find out if there are any unresolved consumer
complaints on file.
Ask friends, relatives and co-workers for
recommendations. Ask contractors if theres a charge for an estimate before allowing
them in your home. Get written estimates from at least three firms. Ask for explanations
for price variations. Dont automatically choose the lowest bidder.
Be skeptical of contractors who come to your door
unsolicited or offer reduced prices because theyve just completed work nearby and
have materials left over.
Beware of contractors who ask you to pay for the
entire job up front. Your down payment should not be more than one-third of the total
price. And remember, only licensed contractors and salespeople can require and accept any
payments before the job is completed. Pay only by check or credit card, not cash.
Be cautious about using your home as security for a
home improvement loan. If you fail to repay the loan as agreed, you could lose your home.
Have a knowledgeable friend, relative or your
attorney review the contract before you sign. If you get a loan to pay for the work,
consider having these documents reviewed as well.
Be aware that you have cancellation rights. Under
Federal and District law, you have three business days to cancel the deal if you sign the
contract in your home or at a location that is not the sellers permanent place of
business. The salesperson must give you two copies of a cancellation form (one to keep and
one to send back) and a copy of your contract or receipt. The contract or receipt must be
dated, show the name and address of the seller, and explain your right to cancel.
Check Out Your Contractor
Ask the contractor for the following
information. Use it to check out the contractor with appropriate authorities and previous
customers. If the contractor is reluctant to give you this information, consider doing
business with another company.
An unsigned copy of the contract
A copy of the estimate
Street address (no P.O. Box)
D.C. License Number
Name under which license is
Number of years contractor has
had a D.C. license
Names, addresses and telephone
numbers of previous D.C. customers. Ask them about their experiences with the company. If
possible, visit a completed job.
The FTC works for the consumer to
prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the
marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and
avoid them. To file a
complaint or to get free information
on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or
call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The
FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related
Consumer Sentinel, a
secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law
enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.