Careful Selection is Key to Successful Choice Of Home Improvement Contractor
Office of Public Affairs
12000 Government Center Parkway, Suite 551
Fairfax, VA 22035-0065
April 4, 2003
Careful Selection is Key to Successful
Of Home Improvement Contractor
As housing costs increase, more and more homeowners are investing in improving their current home rather than moving elsewhere. But this is often - sadly - a case of buyer beware.
Bad experiences with home improvement contractors head the list of most frequent consumer complaints to Fairfax County's Department of Cable Communications and Consumer Protection. The homeowner's best protection is careful selection of a contractor, including obtaining a complaint history from the department.
Home improvements as defined in the Fairfax County Code cover such construction or property alteration as:
Installation of aluminum or vinyl siding over existing siding
Laying a concrete or asphalt driveway
Constructing an in-ground swimming pool
Remodeling a kitchen
- Building a deck
Constructing retaining walls greater than 24 inches in height
Additions to existing structures or new accessory structures
- Sealing an asphalt driveway
Not covered are chimney cleaning, exterior or interior painting, fencing a yard, wallpapering or building a brick patio.
Important tips for selecting a contractor:
- Ask for a copy of the contractor's current licenses and insurance certificates. Home improvement contractors and their sales staff must be licensed by the Licensing Section of the Office of Building Code Services, 703-324-1540, TTY 711 (Virginia Relay). They must meet requirements of the Virginia State Board for Contractors and are often required to have a Fairfax County Business, Professional and Occupational License issued by the Department of Tax Administration.
- Check the contractor's compliance record with the Fairfax County Department of Cable Communications and Consumer Protection at 703-222-8435, TTY 703-222-8653; or visit the county's Web site at www.fairfaxcounty.gov. If the work was in other jurisdictions, call their consumer offices. Contact the local Better Business Bureau for a further check of the contractor's past performance.
- Ask for customer references, particularly from those who have had projects similar to yours. If possible, inspect the work performed by the contractor.
- Make sure the contractor has insurance to cover damage to your home or injury to employees working on your property. Obtain the name of the insurance carrier and the agent and contact them to verify that the appropriate policies are in effect.
- Get written estimates from several firms. Be sure to specify the work you want done and the materials to be used, so that the estimates will be easy to compare.
- Insist on a written contract, as required by the Fairfax County Home Improvement Code and state regulations, and make sure that it includes all agreements regarding the work to be done and materials to be used. Also, be sure the contract specifies that you will be furnished with a signed mechanic's lien waiver or release from suppliers of materials or subcontractors. In the event that a contractor does not pay a subcontractor or supplier, state law provides that those working on the improvement project may obtain a lien against the property. Without a lien waiver, if your contractor fails to pay a subcontractor or supplier, you could be liable for the debt.
For further information or if you have a complaint regarding a home
improvement contractor, contact the Fairfax County Department of Cable
Communications and Consumer Protection at 703-222-8435, TTY 703-222-8653,
or visit the county's Web site at www.fairfaxcounty.gov. To determine if a contractor
is appropriately licensed, call 703-324-1540, TTY 711.