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Professional contractor ... or scammer?

The Canadian Home Builders’ Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (CHBA-NL) wants regulations in place to help keep homeowners safer.
The Canadian Home Builders’ Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (CHBA-NL) wants regulations in place to help keep homeowners safer.

CHBA-NL wants regulations in place to help keep homeowners safer.

If you hire someone shady to do a cash repair on your home, there’s a word for what you have when things go wrong: a “tailgate warranty.” Once the homeowner can no longer see the tailgate of the contractor’s truck, all bets are off.

Curtis Mercer, president & CEO of K & P Contracting Ltd. in Flatrock, N.L., says it’s a shame — and a disservice to the homebuilding and renovation industry — when an innocent homeowner is duped by a scammer.

He often hears horror stories about illegitimate contractors where the work never gets completed — or gets completed but it doesn’t hold up. A week or a month later, the windows are leaking or the siding is falling off, and there’s no one to stand by the work.

Mercer knows of one homeowner who hired a questionable contractor to repair water damage and later discovered he hadn’t removed any of the mold, mildew or wet materials before attempting a patch job. He’d also cut into load-bearing wall supports and replaced them with a substandard material, causing her second storey to drop dangerously.

“The homeowner then brought in a reputable contractor and turned the project over to him, and it wound up becoming a successful renovation,” says Mercer. “But because she’d originally hired someone who wasn’t a professional, it caused a lot of stress, time and frustration — along with additional costs.”

Victoria Belbin, CEO of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (CHBA-NL), says paying cash for an under-the-table job might sound appealing because it’s cheaper — but it’s a huge risk.

“You’ll likely have to bring somebody else in afterwards to fix the problem or address any damage to your home,” says Belbin. “It’s going to cost you more in the end.”

Her No. 1 piece of advice is that homeowners “do their homework” before hiring any builder or renovator.

“You can’t go by your gut feeling. You need to ensure you’re hiring a qualified professional,” says Belbin. “There are well-qualified individuals who have invested in training and run legitimate businesses. Customers who contract these professionals can feel confident that their risk is minimized and that, at the end of the project, they will have a comfortable, safe home that retains its value.”

Krista Pippy with Dream Kitchens and Renovations in St. John’s says it’s difficult to hear the stories of people who forked their hard-earned money over to a sketchy contractor who never ended up completing the work.

“The homeowner feels betrayed and ripped off. It can be hard for us to gain their trust, too, because they feel like they’re going to get burned again,” says Pippy. “We always suggest they do their research and ask for recommendations before hiring anyone.”

Since not every homeowner is aware of which contractors are qualified and which ones plan to scam them for thousands, CHBA-NL is campaigning the government to implement a regulated and professional home construction and renovation industry.

Just as the government regulates realtors and mortgage brokers, Belbin believes there should be a similar system for housing construction — like the one that already exists in B.C., Alberta and Ontario.

Reputable builders and renovators are trained to ensure they’re up-to-date on building practices and code requirements. They hold the appropriate insurance for both the company, the project and the workers in order to protect the homeowner. They’ll provide written contracts and a guideline of the scope of work and the construction standards used within the build, secure any necessary permits and typically be part of a third-party program that offers additional warranty protection.

Belbin says CHBA-NL members who are renovation contractors can also receive the RenoMark™ certification by agreeing to a renovation-specific code of conduct above the association code of conduct.

“It shows they’re committed to professionalism, safety and liability. It’s a commitment they make to the consumer,” says Belbin. “It shows they’re priding themselves on providing excellent customer service by returning calls within two business days, commiting to a written contract and providing a two-year warranty on their work.”

When homeowners are evaluating their options, Mercer says they shouldn’t automatically go with the lowest bid, either. He believes homeowners should also conduct reference checks, ask questions, check to see if they’re a member of industry associations and look at online reviews.

Once you do choose a reputable contractor, Belbin says it’s critical to get everything in writing to protect yourself and your home.

“A handshake isn’t good enough. If something happens or there’s a legal issue, you need to have recourse to pull back,” says Belbin.

To learn more about Newfoundland and Labrador’s residential construction industry and search for a qualified professional, visit chbanl.ca.

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