Tips for Happy Home Improvement

Summer’s almost here, and the long days can make you feel like you have extra time on your hands. Maybe the rainy winter damaged your home, or you’re noticing aging parts of your abode that you’d like to renovate. Either way, you’re considering home improvement!

Summer can be a great time to start home improvement projects, but it’s important to know what you’re getting in to and do your research before you begin! In 2016, consumers nationwide filed more than 4,500 complaints on home improvement businesses with BBB. The leading cause for complaints was sales, followed by customer service. Consumers frequently complain about companies and contractors performing shoddy work and being unable to reach customer service or get a refund.

Follow these tips to ensure your home improvement project is a dream come true, not a nightmare:

  • Find a contractor you can trust. Consumers nationwide filed nearly 5,500 complaints against general contractors in 2016. Similar to home improvement businesses, the leading cause for complaints was sales, followed by customer service. Start with trust and find a contractor on org. There you can see their rating, complaint history, reviews from past customers, and whether they’re a trustworthy BBB Accredited Business. Ask for references from friends and family as well.
  • Watch out for scams and recognize red flags. According to the BBB Risk Index, home improvement scams are actually the riskiest scam to consumers. The BBB Risk Index takes in to account exposure (how likely you are to be exposed to a scam), susceptibility (if you’re exposed, how likely you are to lose money to a scam), and median loss (if you do lose money, how much it is likely to be). Although exposure (1%) to home improvement scams is low, susceptibility (53%) and median loss ($1,400) are both high, making it the #1 most risky scam! In a home improvement scam, a scammer approaches you at your home or through an ad, offering a low price or short time frame. Once started, they either “find” issues that raise the price, leave a half-finished project, or take your payment and never return to do the job.
    • Watch out for contractors that: claim that they’re working in your neighborhood and have extra supplies, only accept cash, use high-pressure sales tactics, demand a high upfront payment, or insist on making a deal without a written contract. Learn more at org/homescam.
  • Always double check licensing and insurance. In California, any contractor working on a project that is valued at $500 or more for labor and materials must hold a license from the Contractor’s State License Board (CSLB). CSLB licenses contractors in 43 different classifications, so verify that the contractor holds a license for the work you are having done. You can check the status of a license on CSLB’s website. It’s also important to verify that they’re insured – ask to see a copy of their Certificate of Insurance, or ask for the name of the insurance carrier and agency to verify independently.
  • Get three estimates. Make sure to get at least three written estimates for every project before signing any contracts. Make sure the estimates are for identical plans and scope of work. It’s not always best to accept the lowest bid, and be wary if one estimate is significantly lower than the others.
  • Read any contract carefully. Make sure the contract specifies the price, the work to be done and who will do it, a breakdown of material and labor costs, and a time frame. Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor. Be sure the name, address, license number and phone number is included in contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety. Don’t sign a blank contract, and make sure you receive a copy of the signed contract at time of signature. Be sure the contract specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor. Don’t feel pressured to pay with cash or pay in advance.

If you’re exposed to a home improvement scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker at to help warn others. If you work with a great company on your home improvement project, leave them a Customer Review. And if you’re not satisfied with an outcome, you can file a complaint with BBB

Pearl is the Communications Specialist for Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern Coastal California (BBB Oakland). She works to advance BBB’s vision of an ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers trust each other by being proactive in the community and developing relationships with business and consumer groups. Pearl represents BBB at events throughout the Bay Area to educate a wide variety of people. Pearl also manages BBB Oakland’s social media channels.

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Posted in Consumer Tips, Scams

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