Spring Has Sprung; Consumer Tips on Hiring a Contractor
April 07, 2014

Pittsburgh, PA - Spring has finally arrived in Western PA! In the marketplace, warmer temperatures lead contractors into their busy season as homeowners look to have damage from winter storms fixed, hire landscapers to spruce up their yard or painters to brighten their home with a new coat of paint. No matter the size of the project, consumers should take the time to research and hire a contractor that is dependable and trustworthy.

“Hiring a contractor to work on your home or lawn is a personal matter, no matter how large or small of a project,” said Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. “Though the majority of contractors provide quality work, homeowners should be aware of their rights before signing a contract and avoid feeling pressured to sign on the spot.”

In 2013, general contractors finished among your Better Business Bureau’s top five most complained about types of businesses in Western PA. In addition, the construction industry accounted for 40 percent of the overall inquiries received at your BBB last year.  

When you're ready to call a contractor, consider the following advice:

• Start your search with BBB for business reviews on companies you plan to call and get a list of BBB Accredited Contractors by calling 877-267-5222 or going to bbb.org.

• Check with your local municipality to see what, if any, additional licensing requirements a contractor must have to do work in your area.  It is also important to check with your local building inspector or town clerk to see if a building permit is required for the particular project you wish to complete.

• Before making a financial commitment, solicit at least 2-3 bids from prospective contractors based on the same building specifications, materials, labor and time needed to complete the project. Remember that the contractor with the lowest bid may not be the best suited for the job.

Once you have found a contractor:

  • Verify that the contractor is properly registered. The Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act requires all contractors, who perform at least $5,000 worth of home improvements per year,register with the Bureau of Consumer Protection of the Pennsylvania Attorney General. To find out whether a contractor is registered with the Office of the Attorney General call 888-520-6680 or visit attorneygeneral.gov.

  • Request proof that the company has insurance covering workmen's compensation, property damage and personal liability. Ask for a current copy of the insurance certificates for your records.

  • Don't pay for the entire job in advance or pay cash to a salesperson or contractor. The law states for a contract of more than $1,000, a contractor cannot accept a deposit in excess of 1/3 of the contract price, or 1/3 of the contract price plus the cost of special order materials.

  • Get everything in writing. Before signing a contract, read over it over in its entirety. Do not sign if there are any blank lines or if there are any statements you don’t entirely understand. Keep a copy of the contract after the job is completed in case there is an issue. In addition, any warranty offered on products by the contractor should be in writing and scrutinized carefully. Make certain you understand all of the terms and conditions, including the length of the warranty.

  • Understand the Federal Trade Commission’s Cooling-Off Rule - Contracts for goods or services in excess of $25 that are entered into as a result of a contact at your home, either in person or by telephone, can be canceled within three business days following the date of the contract.

  • Request a receipt marked "Paid in Full" when the job is complete.

Avoid Contractors Who:

  • Sell door-to-door or claim to have extra material from their last job.

  • Ask for payments in cash or request the full payment upfront.

  • Pressure homeowners to sign a contract immediately.

  • Tell customers to borrow money from their lender.

  • Ask customers to get their own building permit.

For more tips on hiring a home improvement contractor, visit bbb.org.