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How to Avoid Renovation Rip Offs

Reputable renovators shudder when they hear about consumers ripped off by bad contractors. It's even sadder when the victims are seniors who may be struggling to get by on fixed incomes. Fortunately there are ways to protect yourself so you can do the renovations that will make your home more comfortable, attractive, safe and accessible.
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Reputable renovators shudder when they hear about consumers ripped off by bad contractors. It's even sadder when the victims are seniors who may be struggling to get by on fixed incomes.

Fortunately there are ways to protect yourself so you can do the renovations that will make your home more comfortable, attractive, safe and accessible.

The first thing is to recognize that charlatans may be lousy renovators but are terrific at winning your trust.

Warning signs include offers of a special deal because the contractor is supposedly doing another job in your neighbourhood. Watch out if you are quoted a price before the renovator sees the job. Alarm bells should go off if you are asked for a big down payment to purchase materials.

Besides the potential for outright fraud where a contractor takes the deposit and runs, shoddy work can mean huge repair bills and trouble when it comes to sell a home if the work violates codes or was performed without permits.

Most of us also like a bargain so it's no surprise that homeowners are tempted when a renovator offers to accept payment in cash if no receipt is required.

The so-called "savings' from cash deals can also be an illusion. Unlicensed contractors likely pay more for materials and the purported GST savings may be eaten up by a padded bill.

You are guaranteed not to get a warranty on the work – plus the warranties on appliances may be cancelled unless you can prove they were installed by a qualified technician.

Without a written contract, there is no legal recourse if there are problems. And you can be exposed to legal liability if the cash operator does not have coverage for injured workers, or damage to your property or a neighbouring home.

Here are key questions to ask before you agree to a "steal of a deal":

Will the contractor guarantee the quality of the materials and workmanship in writing?

Will you receive proof of payment?

Have all building permits, inspections, licences and certificates required by your municipality been obtained?

Did you get two or three estimates? If an estimate seems too good to be true, review it to make sure nothing is missing.

One way to protect yourself from fly-by-night operators and ensure quality work is to hire a member of the RenoMark program.

This identifies renovation contractors who have agreed to the Canadian Home Builders' Association Code of Ethics and a renovation-specific Code of Conduct. RenoMark renovators understand the value of customer service, provide warranties and continually educate themselves on trends, materials and new regulations.

You can also find more ideas about how to ensure your renovation goes smoothly by checking out the Get It In Writing page at www.chbaalberta.ca. This collaborative initiative with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. will help you understand issues such as liens, documentation to require from contractors, details about what should be included in the written contract and useful project checklists.