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I want to preface this article by saying I am not an attorney and am in no way qualified to give legal advice. This is just what I have learned over the last year.

Last year, we decided to do some home improvements. We wanted to put a deck on the house, build out our basement with a bedroom and a bathroom for the teenager, and have new siding put on. These would be the final steps in our home remodeling.

As any home owner knows, remodeling takes time, money and a lot of patience. Ours has been a three year process. Three years of hammering and inconvenience. Three excruciatingly long years.

Finding a Contractor

Anyway, we called around to different contractors that we found in various places – found a few in the paper, a few names on the sides of trucks we passed in town, a few folks were recommended. Some came to give bids, some never showed up.

It was a pretty trying process even finding someone, so when the Mister came home from work explaining that a coworker ‘friend’ of 5 years was starting his own construction business, it seemed perfect! He came, told us he could handle the jobs, so we gave him the work. This was August 6th, and he said he would be finished with everything by Halloween.

Fast forward to December 20th. The house is far from finished, there are issues starting to surface in the work that was finished, and the guy stopped showing up. Merry Christmas, right?!

Everything Was Wrong

We started trying to connect with him after our emergency electrician and plumber came in and found that nothing was up to code and there were some serious issues with the house that needed corrected immediately.

I don’t even want to go into some of the problems, but they included the electrical, the water, the toilet vent, and the gas lines. I mean, that’s about everything that could go wrong. The house could have burned down, flooded with sewage or filled with carbon monoxide at any given moment. That made for some panic filled sleepless nights!

Long story short, after living through this nightmare and actually still fighting with the guy to recoup some of our money, I want to pass along some information that we didn’t have or think about before hiring him (or any contractor for that matter).

Just a quick couple of things that you definitely want to do before having anyone touch your house. It is much, MUCH easier to take the time before the project starts than to have to go through the courts at the end if something goes bad.

Know Your Rights

First and foremost, know your rights! The Attorney General has in place the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act. This is so incredibly important for any home owner to look this over (albeit a tad on the wordy side). The act is in place to protect you, the consumer!

All contractors need to register with the state, and that registration process is pretty extensive. They require the contractor to provide proof of the cottage insurance coverage (verify this again through their insurance company to be sure it is still current!) and it asks the contractor to provide background information, as far as any fraud, theft, crime by deception or any offenses relating to their prior home improvement transactions.

This information is all detailed on the Attorney General’s website. This website also reviews what your rights are as a consumer. Things like a written quote (and the information it needs to contain) are listed, as well as what is classified as Home Improvement Fraud. Seriously. All very important information!

Get a Written Quote

The written quote itself is something that we didn’t run into very often! One or two of the bids that we received did come with a written quote, the others were just verbal. We did not have a written quote for the guy that did the botched work on our house and that came up in court quite a few times. Without that quote, the scope of the work, payment, really everything can be questioned.

Are They Registered?

Once you think you have found someone that you like, that understands what you are looking to have completed and who has provided you with a written quote, take the time to make sure they are registered in PA. You can check that on the Attorney General’s website as well.

The website will allow you to check by a specific contractor or location. So if you are having issues finding someone, you can search by your zip code of the registered contractors by what service you are looking for (ie, electrician, plumber, painting, etc).

We also did not check to see if the guy we used was registered or insured. He told us that he was in the process of completing his registration and insurance and we believed him, but unfortunately for us, that never happened.

Lesson learned by all of that – Don’t let an unregistered contractor do any work for you. The registration process is there to protect you and any contractor that tells you differently is probably hiding something!

Check the Better Business Bureau

Another spot you can research the contractor is the Better Business Bureau. This agency logs complaints from consumers on any business, not just in the construction arena. Again, you can search by company name here or business type and location.

The BBB gives each business a grade from A to F, and you are able to read through any complaints filed against the business. Very good information to have!

Check Out the Permits

Ok, so you found someone. He/she is registered in PA, they have current insurance and no BBB complaints. You get the written quote and everything is running smoothly. The last thing you want to make sure you take care of are the permits.

While some contractors will take care of these themselves, you want to confirm with your borough that the work the contractor is performing does or does not need a permit. Again, the permit and inspection process is to protect you! While it sort of seems like a pain in the neck, it is so, so important!

Our guy said we didn’t need a permit, and we stupidly believed him (gullible much? Geesh). Not only should we have had one, but the inspection process would have saved us a lot of headache, rework and money in the long run.

So if you don’t know for sure about the permits, ASK. All you have to do is call your borough and tell them what work you are doing, and they should be able to tell you if you need one and how to apply.

In the end, it’s all a learning process – or at least that’s what the Mister and I have been telling each other for the last year. If you go into the process blindly, you are leaving a nice sized opening for some shady individuals to come in. Sadly it seems that they are more common than the good guys, at least from what we have seen!

Hopefully these tips will help you if you are looking for a contractor. You know what good ol’ Ben Franklin said… “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So true!

Anastasia Beaverhausen is a married, stay-at-home mom of three kids. She was born, raised and still lives in downtown Beaver. Her main goals in life are making sure everyone lives through the week, the house doesn’t end up condemned, and teaching two (so far) small people how to “people” properly. In her free time, Ana enjoys running, knitting and gardening, although free time is a pretty tough thing to come by these days. Follow her on twiter @bcBeaverhausen!