Home Improvement’s 7 Deadly Sins

After speaking and working with thousands of homeowners regarding home improvement projects, I’ve noticed a pattern of unhealthy behavior when approaching a home repair or remodeling project. Often times these homeowners have come to our company in search of rescue from a previous contractor or simply want to avoid repeating a bad experience from the past.

All good consumers and business owners want each party to act in good faith during any home improvement project. Unfortunately, however, home improvement is one of the top industries for fraud and consumer dissatisfaction. Why? While much of the blame is the fault of the home improvement industry, there are common mistakes I see homeowners commit that contribute to their own dissatisfaction. Avoiding these 7 mistakes can mean the difference between a delightful home improvement project and disastrous bad dream.

1. Falling In Love With the Salesperson: Since most homeowners aren’t experts in home repair, they rely heavily on the likability and apparent credibility of the salesperson to define the competence of those performing the project. Client dissatisfaction is a certainty when the employees or subcontractors don’t live up to the expectations the homeowner had of the salesperson. When you invite someone to your home for a home repair or remodeling project, make sure this individual is skilled at home improvement projects, not simply a commissioned salesperson whose interest is selling you more than you need.

2. Neglecting Your Family’s Safety: Most homeowners would be appalled to learn of the felony record, drug convictions, sex offenses, domestic violence or financial irresponsibility of the common worker in the construction, trade and home services industry. While prior criminals have every right to work, they have no business in your home-where your family’s safety and your property’s security are at stake. Demand to see a company’s employee screening and background check process to ensure your safety and comfort with those working in your home.

3. Hoping to Receive Excellence Without Paying For It: From toothpaste to gasoline, shopping for the cheapest price might not be a bad idea-for many consumer goods are truly non-differentiable commodities. In this case, quality or performance of the product isn’t typically affected by price. Home improvement, however, can’t be commoditized, since every home is a unique creation, every project is a custom solution, and every client holds a unique set of expectations. Instead of focusing on price, look for the greatest value. For most people I meet, value equates to uncompromising craftsmanship, timely service, backed with a solid guarantee, delivered by a company who cares about them and their home and has the integrity to operate their business with transparency. Be clear on what you value in a company and don’t compromise your standards.

4. Asking the Wrong Questions: How long have you been in business? Where are you located? How many technicians do you have? These questions are all aimed at answering a homeowner’s basic fear: namely, “Are you out to take advantage of me?” Unfortunately, they do not reveal the facts a homeowner needs to make an informed decision. Better questions to ask concern worker’s compensation and liability insurance, hiring practices for their workers (employees vs. subcontractors) and questions concerning the background screening and drug testing of such representatives of the company. In addition, checking third party review sites and state/local agencies for complaints and corporate legitimacy or good standing are critical before any hiring decision is made. Any service company or contractor who doesn’t welcome the “tough questions” is not worth your patronage.

5. Placing Faith in Bogus References: Would any contractor, ethical or not, intentionally provide you with references other than those who he or she thought would provide a glowing recommendation? Consequently, a homeowner will never get an objective reference on a contractor unless they know to ask for a list of trade references-parties that have no vested interest in telling you anything but the truth. Examples include commercial vendors, materials suppliers, banks, accounting and legal associates or third-party reporting agencies like the Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List and Service Magic.

6. Ignoring Insurance Coverage: Companies should provide proof of both liability insurance and worker’s compensation coverage to protect you from both property damage and injuries sustained by workers on the project. Homeowner’s policies generally do not cover such claims and you, as the homeowner, may be held liable if the company you hire doesn’t have such coverage. Legitimate companies are proud to show proof of coverage because it is extremely costly to them. Avoid any contractor who doesn’t carry such coverage.

7. Allocating an Insufficient Budget: Savvy consumers never initiate a discussion about a home repair project with a price inquiry. Rather, they’ve researched what a project should roughly cost and remain focused on finding the company who will deliver that project within their expectations and budget. Instead of shopping for home improvement services by price, first spend some time finding a contractor who you can trust.

Then, share your budget with that trusted adviser so they can help you devise a plan to achieve your project goals within your financial constraints. In the end, if a project is done poorly or the experience in completing it was miserable, any cost savings by shopping for the cheapest price proves irrelevant.

Support Your Community: Shop Local Home Improvement Stores Instead of Big Box Stores

Often, people want to improve their homes, but they just don’t have the patience to try to struggle through trying to get a big box home improvement store employee to help. Surly, clueless hourly employees are just one of the many drawbacks to using a big box store for your renovation project. Instead of making revitalizing your home into a hassle, opt to shop at a locally-owned home improvement store. Not only does a local store offer significantly better service, but they also know their products incredibly well, making it much easier for you to find both the help and knowledge you’ll need to make your project a success.

Better Customer Service

Local home improvement stores can offer a better shopping experience all around. With knowledgeable staff, mom and pop stores have an advantage that big box stores don’t have: personal connections to the customers. Many times local home improvement stores are owned by individuals within the community, and because of this, they have more of investment in their customer service. They help their neighbors, their friends, their friends’ friends; basically they represent the entire community within one store. Because of this, they offer a more personal connection to their customers. Local stores tend to be smaller, which gives them more opportunity to get to know their customers and gives the customer a greater sense of comfort. Often in big box stores, customers have to search out an associate to help them, and most of the associates are not as knowledgeable as the local home improvement store owner.

Specialty Stores

The best kind of locally owned home improvement store is definitely the specialty stores that focus their business on one aspect of home improvement, like flooring, cabinetry or countertops. Specialists like this know their product inside out and are able to make the best recommendations for your specific project. Often, flooring, cabinetry, countertop and other specialty stores also have professional installation teams on staff that can help you take your inspiration and turn it into a reality. Even if you want to go the DIY route, specialized stores are an amazing asset thanks to their extensive knowledge.

Community Connections

Because local home improvement stores are owned by individuals within the community, they also have inside information on contractors, builders, electricians and plumbers. Store owners will know the perfect person to help you with any need; all you have to do is ask. They know the people in the trade and can guide you to the business or individual who can solve your home improvement problem. Local business owners will know the ins and outs of who is a reliable tradesmen and who is not, helping you find individuals who will give you the best customer service for your specific needs.

Community Support

Supporting your local economy is always a great idea. This means money being earned within that county is being applied back to businesses within that community. Big box stores do not have much stake in how well the local economy does, but locally owned businesses will. Putting money back into the community helps to support the county as a whole and keep big businesses from moving in. Also, local home improvement store owners will often refer customers to local tradesmen and businesses, which helps increase the overall revenue within the community. Big box stores may not have such information to give. This not only gives the customer a better experience, but helps promote the community’s economy.

How to Improve the Marketing Skills For Your Internet Home Based Business

You might have started an internet home based business, possibly with a few customers already on the books. However, you will always need to find more and more customers, but you suddenly realize that you lack the marketing skills.

The most basic skill of online home business is marketing. If you apply some basic marketing skills or principles, and if you do this consistently over a period of time, you will bring in innovative business opportunities.

A marketing skill is defined as communicating the right message to the right people at the right time, in a way which is precise for your business.

Here are the great tips to improve your marketing skills in your online home business:

  • First identify exactly what you are going to do with your prospect.
  • Look for training programs and tools which give step by step instructions on how to create morals which are useful for your prospect in internet home based business.
  • Be practical in searching for the better ways to promote your own website.
  • Try to evaluate the efficiency of your newly established method.
  • Understand the methods, educate yourself, be patient, and apply what you learned.

Positive attitude:

Personal improvement is a big part of the marketing process. You can make money, and succeed in your internet home based business by improving your confidence, your interactions, and your overall attitude about life. At the same time, you will need to possess an optimistic outlook and open up for new types of business developments.

Leadership qualities: 

Improving your leadership qualities is a very important marketing skill and it is really about wanting others to get ahead and helping them reach their goals. Marketing in any business is all about creating a supportive environment and comradeship for all those who are involved.

The right message:

Another very essential marketing skill which you will need to improve upon is clarity about what you want to convey to potential clients, and how to say it. The main thing which you need to consider is that your prospective customers must be able to see the benefits to them by buying your service or product.

Generally when customers are buying, they want to move away from an undesirable situation, and move toward a situation which they would like to be in. Your communication therefore needs to reflect this.

For many internet home based business people, improving their marketing skills can appear to be a very tough task. However, it is essential to invest a great amount of time to understand the basics of how best to market your home business. Once you train yourself with it, you will be pleasantly amazed by the outcome you receive.

What to Know Before Signing a Home Improvement Contract

It is important to be a very careful consumer when it comes to home improvement contractors. For instance, I had a case where my client, an elderly and blind woman, signed a contract and paid $30,000.00 to a home improvement company that disappeared with all of her money! Unfortunately, the company was a scam operation, my client lost her life’s savings and it will take some time in court before my client may ever see her money again however, her mistake will be a lesson to all of you because this article explains how to protect yourself from home improvement fraud.

Before signing any contract with a home improvement company, first ask that company for its license number and check it out with your State or County Consumer Affairs’ Business License Division. Find the License Division on the web or call information and get their number. You want to find out (1) the name and address of the company associated with the license number given to you, (2) if the company is currently licensed and the license expiration date and (3) whether any complaints have been made against that company. The answers to those questions will help you determine if you want to proceed with signing a contract. Make sure both the contractor and the company he works for are licensed to work in your State.

If your going to sign the contract then make sure certain things are included pursuant to your understanding and as required by your State’s Home Improvement Business Law. The contracting company’s name, address and phone number should be printed on the contract. Also, it is important that the contracting company’s home improvement license number is printed on the contract and that it is not different from the number you called and inquired about with Consumer Affairs. Lastly, make sure that all of the work to be performed is listed in the contract and that the approximate start and end dates of work are included. You should put a penalty clause in the contract regarding the contractor’s failure to timely complete the work because contractors are notorious for starting jobs and then leaving for a few days or weeks to do other jobs while you sit and wait in your dismantled kitchen for him to return. Once the contract terms are satisfactory then the contract should be signed by both you and the company’s representative.

An example of a consumer protection law is New York’s General Business Law §771 (“GBL”) requiring all home improvement contracts shall be in writing and contain certain terms of payment, fees for services and materials and start and completion dates, among other terms. GBL §771 is a consumer protection statute to prevent the misunderstandings between contractor had consumer and to protect the consumer from overreaching of the contractor, such as charging for work that was not agreed upon. GBL §771 limits the contractor who disregards its written contract requirements to satisfactorily proving to a court each and every item of work he did and the reasonable value of each item by detailed invoices, timesheets and proof of hourly rates, among other proofs. So, if the contractor who failed to put your home improvement work in writing attempts to collect $20,000.00 from you, he has to prove the value of his services in detail before scaring you into paying an amount you had no idea about. New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act and the Home Improvement Act protect the consumer even more by denying the contractor from recovering any monies if he violates any of the consumer laws AND he will pay three times the amount of damages (called treble damages) to the consumer for his failing to obtain proper permits or licenses or any other violation of those laws.

Lastly, protect yourself by not paying 100% upfront. Most contracting companies ask for a deposit upon your signing the contract. I suggest that you put down as little as possible and arrange a payment schedule with the company where you will pay a certain amount as certain work is completed. Of course, always get a receipt, signed by the company and stating the date and amount of any monies paid to the company if you pay anything in cash.

This article is certainly not all inclusive and is intended only as a brief explanation of the legal issue presented. Not all cases are alike and it is strongly recommended that you consult an attorney if you have any questions with respect to any legal matters.

Any questions and/or comments with respect to this topic or any other topic, contact:

Law Offices of Susan Chana Lask

853 Broadway, Suite 1516

New York, NY 10003

(212) 358-5762
Susan Chana Lask, Esq. c 2004