Avoid “Bait and Switch” from a Home Contractor

It’s always a treat to open up The Washington Post and see the name of someone I know. Often times, it’s my old college pal Harvey Jacobs, the “House Lawyer” columnist for the Post’s real estate section. This past weekend, his column really hit home (pardon the pun): a reader wrote in about being charged for solid-core interior doors but being given hollow-core doors. He also was charged significantly more for the installation than he had been quoted.

This is a the type of “substandard marketplace behavior” that BBB investigates all the time. It’s probably not an outright scam, but it sure is shoddfront door 150x150 Avoid “Bait and Switch” from a Home Contractory work and a shady practice. Harvey has some good advice for homeowners looking to make minor home improvements.

“All home renovation projects should be in writing and specify exactly which materials are to be supplied; what labor is to be performed and by whom; and who is responsible for any demolition, permits, inspections, cleanup and warranties. The contract should contain the full legal name of the person or company doing the work. It also should state that the contractor is licensed and contains all license numbers and insurance information. Copies of those policies should be attached as exhibits to the contract.

“The contract should identify the deliverables to be exchanged for final payment. Deliverables include releases from the contractor, all subcontractors and all suppliers of materials to the job. Obtaining these releases is critical because if the subcontractors or suppliers are not paid for their labor or materials used on your project, they can place a lien against your home to secure their payment. Before making final payment to the contractor, make sure you receive original releases from all parties. As you discovered, another important deliverable is the written warranty. Absent an agreement to deliver these documents, the contractor is under no duty to deliver these warranties to you.

“The project timeline and payment schedule should be part of the contract, as well. The timeline should state the start and completion dates. The payment schedule should track the value of the work performed up to that time. In other words, if 50 percent of the work (in terms of value) has been performed, then payment of 50 percent of the total price — less a “retainage” amount — should be paid to the contractor. A retainage — usually 10 percent of the total — is what you hold back until the job is finished.

But what about the writer who had already paid for better doors?

“The most troubling part of your letter is it appears that your contractor may have sold and charged you for solid-core doors, yet installed inferior, hollow-core doors. If this turns out to be true, such practices are likely violations of your state’s unfair and deceptive trade practices act and perhaps other statutes, as well.”

If you have a problem with a contractor such as this, consider filing a complaint with BBB first before taking legal action. We’ll do our best to help you work it out directly. And if the contractor refuses to respond to your complaint, that will be reflected in the rating in their BBB Business Review.

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About Katherine Hutt

Katherine R. Hutt, Director of Communications and Media Relations with the Council of Better Business Bureaus, is an award-winning communicator who has been helping nonprofit organizations tell their stories for the past 25 years. She was a CBBB consultant on numerous projects for more than a decade before joining the staff in 2011.