By Jim Donovan: In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many residents are scrambling to hire damage repair companies. Mike Bannon, Director of the Bucks County Consumer Protection Office strongly advises consumers to use caution when hiring a contractor.

Here are some great tips that Mike sent over to me today regarding hiring home improvement contractors in Pennsylvania.

– Do not be an easy target. Ask to see a contractor’s license and verify it by calling (888)520-6680 or if you have internet access by checking it on the Attorney General website.

Be wary of contractors knocking on your door.    The consumer protection office  prefers to see the consumer initiate the business transaction.

– It is required under the PA Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act that contractors provide a physical street address and landline phone number to the consumer, not just a P.O. box or cell phone number.

– Contracts for home improvements are mandatory under the law and must be signed by the consumer and contractor before work begins. It should include the contactor’s HIC license number. The contract must state the exact work to be done, a starting and completion date for the project and total cost including a payment break down. Guarantees/warranties should be listed as well; no verbal agreements. Make sure you receive a full copies of anything you sign immediately for future use.

– You are only required to pay one third deposit up front.

– A contractor who offers to do a job cheaper if paid in cash is probably not paying taxes and almost certainly not paying for insurance. Avoid paying cash if possible. A check or credit card provides a paper trail if a contractor takes your money and never returns.

– A contractor driving an automobile without a company logo on it could be another red flag.

– Work with you insurance company directly. If you are not satisfied with their service then consider hiring a reputable public adjuster to help.

Remember, scammers usually present themselves as a friendly, reliable person. The Bucks County Consumer Protection Office hears numerous complaints about scam artists that they were “so nice”. Make a business decision, not an emotional one as best you can. As in any consumer transaction be polite but firm.

Residents with electrical power can go to the Bucks County Consumer Protection web site at ,go to quick links Consumer Protection then to the Tips and Brochures section and download the Contractors Home Improvement Act brochure for additional information. You may also call 215-348-6060 ,using the prompt for a Consumer Investigator to check if a business has had complaints filed against them or to speak to a Consumer Investigator.

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