If you go search on the Federal Trade Commission’s web site you’ll find that home improvement and remodeling complaints are right up there with used car sales – usually in the top five most reported problems by consumers. And it is exactly the same at the Attorney General offices in every state. Why is that? Well, the answer has to due with the way the remodeling industry is run.
First of all, it is a “good ‘ole boy” industry, made up almost entirely of men who started out as sales representatives, then went on to start up their own remodeling company. Don’t believe me? Ask your contractor how they got started and you’ll see.
And the problem is that everything Johnny Contractor learned in the 1970’s was passed along to Chuck-in- the-Truck in the 1980’s and over to Bobby-Bag- O’-Donuts in the 1990’s and into today. The same tired old selling techniques get passed along, the same illegal contracts, the same high-pressure sales tactics, ridiculous flyers in your mailbox, cold call telemarketing and phony in-home pricing designed to make you think you are getting some sort of special discount.
The sad truth is, these tactics work, and they make contractors a lot of money. The small contractors use them, and so do the name-brand big-box stores and manufacturers that sell through contractors. It is an epidemic and it has been that way for decades. The motto of the remodeling industry should really be “An Uneducated Consumer Is Our Best Customer”.
Is it possible to find a contractor, with really exceptional experience, who cares more about their reputation than their pocketbook? A company that really considers making money secondary to doing a good job and having 100% customer satisfaction? And thinks that if you do a good job, and keep the customer happy, then you will also be able to make a reasonable profit and have a successful business? Is it possible to find the “softer side” of home improvement and remodeling?
The answer is yes – and that is why people who want a different type of contractor – whether they are Miami celebrities looking to do whole-house remodeling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or a local Ft. Lauderdale couple just interested in a small kitchen makeover – hire Marcela.
The Top Five Ways to REALLY Tell if Your Contractor Is Good
First – are you dealing directly with the contractor or with a sales person?
Almost all sales people in the home improvement and remodeling industry are paid on a commission basis. If they don’t sell you – they don’t get paid. And the more money they get you to spend, the more they get paid. Anyone see a problem with that? Obviously, that creates the wrong incentive. Plus, once you sign the papers, you never see the sales representative again!
MMR doesn’t use commissioned sales representatives. And, although it takes time and effort, this is why Marcela comes out and visits every job that MMR works on. She insists on making sure she knows what the customer wants, what the customer does not want, and making sure the customer is 100% comfortable with the job that is going to be performed. As the owner of MMR, every client has direct access to Marcela, seven days a week! How many contractors can say that?
Second – can you even understand the contract? A fair contract should be easy to read and easy to understand. Ideally it should be in plain English, without a lot of legal jargon and complicated undefined words. It the agreement you are being asked to sign is too confusing for a 6 th grader to understand, you shouldn’t sign it.
Third – are they licensed? In Florida, contractors need to be licensed by the Florida Construction Industry Licensing Board – which requires examinations and financial strength and background checks. That is the “platinum” level of licensure you should be looking for. But, if a contractor is only doing local work, in some places they can get by with a license from the county or city where they are working. Sometimes that also has a rigorous checking procedure, sometimes not – but as we mentioned above – all contractors must be licensed and the license number must be on their contract. No license? You are working with someone who is illegally performing contracting jobs, and you will have little or no rights if something goes wrong on the job.
Fourth – are you being asked for a large deposit? At most you should give your contractor 1/3 to ½ of the purchase price as a deposit and the final balance when the job is complete. If you are being asked for a payment schedule with a larger deposit, alarms should be going off in your head.
Fifth – are they using an illegal contract? This is where the rubber meets the road. Both Florida and the federal government require certain language and forms be used by contractors. The large majority of contractors in Florida (and pretty much everywhere else) are using illegal documents. Why? Because they took the same contract they had when they were a sales representative at their old employer’s, and they ripped it off and put their own name on it. Some don’t know any better, many don’t care, and a few don’t want you to really know what your rights are and what the contractor’s responsibilities are.
How can you tell if your contractor’s documents are illegal? Well, it can be difficult, that is true. At a minimum, the contractor has to be licensed by either the State of Florida or the county where they are working (hopefully they have a state license) and the license number must be on the front of the contract. There are also certain disclosures that have to be on Florida contracts, such as this one:
FLORIDA HOMEOWNERS’ CONSTRUCTION RECOVERY FUND: PAYMENT MAY BE AVAILABLE FROM THE
FLORIDA HOMEOWNERS’ CONSTRUCTION RECOVERY FUND IF YOU LOSE MONEY ON A PROJECT
PERFORMED UNDER CONTRACT, WHERE THE LOSS RESULTS FROM SPECIFIED VIOLATIONS OF FLORIDA
LAW BY A LICENSED CONTRACTOR. FOR INFORMATION ABOUT THE RECOVERY FUND AND FILING A CLAIM,
CONTACT THE FLORIDA CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY LICENSING BOARD AT THE FOLLOWING TELEPHONE
NUMBER AND ADDRESS: 1940 North Monroe Street, Tallahassee, FL 32399-1039. Phone: 850.487.1395. ANY
CLAIMS FOR CONSTRUCTION DEFECTS ARE SUBJECT TO THE NOTICE AND CURE PROVISIONS OF CHAPTER 558, FLORIDA STATUTES.
If these things are not on your contract, you need a new contractor!