With home improvement projects, do research before signing on the dotted line

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published May 17, 2017


METRO DETROIT — Looking to replace your driveway pavement, get new windows or install a new roof?

Before tackling any home improvement projects, local experts have some tips to protect your home — and your bank account.

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, or LARA, advises homeowners to make sure that the contractor they consider is properly licensed in the state by asking to see a copy of the license and then verifying it at www.michigan.gov/license lookup. Electricians, plumbers and mechanical contractors are licensed by LARA and must have a license that corresponds to the type of work being done.

Before work begins, check to see if the municipality requires a permit for the work. 

A permit is the legal permission to start construction in accordance with approved drawings and specifications to meet minimum safety standards, according to a press release from LARA. Permits and inspections help guard against defective work on a project, which may not be covered by insurance. 

Permits are important because in order for a contractor to get a permit, they have to be licensed and bonded, said Chris Rayes, community development and inspection director for St. Clair Shores.

“The importance of it is to make sure that the work is, in fact, being done to code and what (the resident) paid for, and that their house is safe,” he said. “That’s what they get for the inspection.”

Rayes said residents can call their city to see if a permit is required for the work that is being done. 

Beware of fraudulent contractors, say local police.

Several home improvement scams tried on residents throughout the area include: intentionally providing false information, or telling a resident that a contractor will perform a service and then not doing so; receiving payment and then neglecting to provide the service; changing the terms of the contract and increasing the cost of the work; and publishing false advertisements. 

St. Clair Shores Police Community Resource Officer Chad Hammer encourages residents to take their time when making a decision and to get a written contract for all parts of the agreement, whether something is agreed upon verbally or not.

“Always get more than one estimate and ask a trusted friend or family member before deciding, just so you get another perspective from the deal. You may think it’s a good deal, but another person may not,” he said.

Also important, Hammer said, is knowing the work you want done before speaking with a contractor, so they don’t “talk you into something different, or you don’t have a vision of what you expect when the job is done.”

Hammer and LARA warn homeowners never to pay upfront for work to be performed. 

“It happens, from time to time, where they just get the money and they don’t do the job,” Hammer said. 

According to the release from LARA, work usually is paid for in thirds: a third upfront, a third halfway through the project and the last third when the work is completed, inspected and cleaned up. Another warning sign is if the company only will accept cash upfront for work.

Hammer said residents should beware of companies that come door-to-door and claim that they are doing work in the area or have leftover materials from a prior job and offer to give a quote. Pressuring a resident to make immediate decisions is another reason to wait and research the company further before signing on the dotted line.