Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On November 16th I participated on a panel that was set up to help the Firestorm victims (San Diego County) avoid unscrupulous contractors looking to scam unsuspecting homeowners who are beginning to rebuild their lives and homes. There was a whole lot of good information being dissemenated rather quickly and I knew that the most important points being made were going to be much needed six months from the event and we would likely be a faded memory. Getting people to re-visit the information provided and the various websites such as contractorsfromhell.com is going to be key to jogging their memory and getting down to the business of doing their research on potential contractors.

A successful home building and remodeling project is dependent upon hiring an ethical, reliable, competent and experienced contractor. In California as well as many other states, the first step is to check with your Contractors State License Board and verify that the contractor has a clean record, that there has been no history of complaints, disciplinary action and the license is not revoked on suspended.

However, just because a contractor has no complaint history does not mean that complaints have not been filed with the Contractors Board. The Contractors Board cannot disclose complaints until and unless there have been a sufficient number racked up and egregious enough in nature to be referred to the Attorney Generals' Office and THEN the dirty deeds are revealed. In the mean time, unsuspecting homeowners are hiring these unethical contractors and surprise, surprise - getting slapped with a shocking dose of reality and a whole host of problems.

Which brings me to my next key point: Just because someone is licensed DOES NOT MEAN he/she will be ethical or perform quality work meeting industry standards. This same principal applies to organizations with paid memberships such as NARI,NAHB or the BBB. Unethical individuals will use the membership to promote themselves as fine upstanding individuals when nothing could be further from the truth. It's unfortunate that they abuse the membership but there are so many contractors over the years -including my own contractor from hell- who have been revoked, suspended, served jail time, committed grand theft and more and were members of these organinzations. Don't be lulled into thinking that if you hire someone from these organizations you're safe. You still have to do your background checks regardless of how you found the contractor. You can learn more about conducting background checks by following this link to contractorsfromhell.com.

And just to illustrate some of what I'm talking about here is an email I received this week from a homeowner who found out after checking that the license with the CSLB was "clean" later found out- after problems began to crop up with the contractor-that suddenly complaints started to show up. Happened to me and it was a hard lesson learned:

Hello, We checked out our contractor's status with the CSLB in April, and we found no complaints. We also checked the BBB. Then in mid October they were insisting that we provide the next progress payment before the next stage was completed. We of course refused. His insistance made me wonder what if he was having problems with another job. I checked the CSLB , and I found that there were now complaints showing. I then noticed that their license was now suspended because the bonding company had not canceled their insurance. Shortly thereafter they did obtain new bonding insurance retroactively. Once reinstated, we continued to debate when the next progress payment should be paid. During that time I received two preliminary notices. I then insisted on being provided with unconditional waivers for previous progress payments. I am also insisting that with my next progress payment, that he pay subs or material suppliers for any work already completed. I will provide him with a cashier check for each party, but I must obtain an unconditional waiver from each sub for past work. He is refusing to pay one of the subs until the end, but the bill from the sub is higher than what my final payment will be. If he refuses at the end to pay him, I will then owe the sub contractor . I have reported this company to the CSLB. How can they insist that they will not pay the subs until the end of the job?

You can read my response to this consumers' query in my FAQ section on contractorsfromhell.com

Monday, November 05, 2007

In San Diego county the last couple of weeks have been the worst for everyone living in and around the city as the Santa Ana winds and severe dry weather conditions yielded one of the worse fires in our histroy that destroyed over 1000 homes and forced more than 500,000 people from their homes. The nations' media descended upon our city broadcasting to the world that Southern California was burning out of control, people fleeing their homes and evacuation shelters were springing up around the county. It was horrible to witness on TV and when coastal communities were being evacuated I was shocked to hear of the eminent danger as I too live on the coast though 25 miles down from these communities. Still, the fire knew no boundaries and I momentarily envisioned what I thought would be impossible. It never happened but the thought was enough to keep me glued to television and radio for days.

In the midst of all this the local agencies and politicos were rushing to warn victims and scam artists - such as smary, unethical contractors - that contracting without being a duly licensed contractor in an area that has been declared as a state of emergency, is a felony and all penalties are increased and mandatory jail time is enforced. What struck me is how quickly all these agencies were coming forward about the very real problems of contractors willing to scam homeowners because frankly it happens everyday not just in San Diego or California but throughout the nation. It really supports the notion that there are more unethical contractors out there - who happen to be licensed - as well as revoked, suspended, and unlicensed contractors - who are ready to prey on people regardless if it's legal or not. You can be licensed but still perform shoddy work, can still front-load contracts, can still cause problems for owners and be a shady individual. That happened to alot of the 2003 Cedar Fire victims who dealt with licensed contractors but had some serious problems and the Contractors Board stepped up their usual enforcement because of the fire disaster. Otherwises it would have been "business as usual" with complaints taking months to get assigned and resolved

The bottom line is that homeoweners every day are faced with the possiblity of hiring an unethical, licensed contractor just as much as an unscrupulous, unlicensed or revoked contractor. The difference is that the licensed contractor - if he/she is interested in keeping the license in good standing - will correct his behavior and start performing ethically. The other ones make a living out of scamming homeowners and aren't put off by fines or the threat of regulatory agencies. And there is plenty of these kinds of individuals out there.