Here's how to avoid a home improvement disaster


Whatever you do, 'don't give large deposits,' one expert advises

This year has been – and should continue to be – a great year for consumers wanting to do home improvements like closet updates, solar panels, and kitchen and bathroom remodels.

But there are always a number of bad actors who think they can play contractor and make some money off the boom.

One contractor didn’t like where things were headed and seven years after launching his career as a roofing contractor, Dmitry Lipinskiy, CEO of Directorii, sold his business and became consumer advocate. He told ConsumerAffairs, “It’s hard to find a contractor you can trust but it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Contractor advice straight from the horse’s mouth

Now that he’s turned consumer champion, ConsumerAffairs asked Lipinskiy if he would share some insider information on how we all can protect ourselves against contractors who make big promises and leave us hoping that they’ll follow through. Here are some of his thoughts on several home-related topics:

How to find the best building materials and contractors

“Do your research: look for independent reviews and guides. Youtube and Google are great, but pay attention to sources: make sure they are not coming from manufacturers themselves,” he said.

For example, he said several online services are putting their money where their mouths are in regard to recommendations.

Lipinskiy pointed to Google which offers a $2000 guarantee, Contractor's List’s $10,000 guarantee (in Texas) for its recommendations, and which offers a $20,000 guarantee in all states for all recommendations. 

“These sites might have a limited number of contractors listed, but unlike more popular sites these sites don't have ‘fine prints’ stating you are hiring at your own risk: they help you with disputes,” he said.

ConsumerAffairs offers a number of resources to help homeowners who are planning improvements, including an analysis of some of the best bathroom remodeling contractors, including verified reviews.

Working with an insurance company after a weather disaster.

“Document and take pictures of everything before. Outside items are the most important. You will need a picture to prove the condition of items before: grill, pool, fence, deck, furniture etc.,” Lipinskiy advises. “Make sure your contractor is present during inspection with an adjuster to keep him accountable for the scope of damage and to help him to document everything.”

How about warranties?

One of the things that motivated Lipinskiy to hang up his contractor hat was all the gimmicks contractors use. At the top, he lists “50-year” and “lifetime” warranties. He throws extra shade on asphalt manufacturers that make those offers because the life expectancy in his estimation is really only 15-20 years.

“Many issue warranties without inspection of the jobs because they know they will put liability on contractors when a claim is filed,” he said, noting that transferability of warranties is also a “joke.”

Disputes over large projects and how to avoid them.

How can you avoid a dispute when things go wrong? Lipinskiy's suggestions include:

  • Never pay in full until the majority of the work is done

  • Ask for lien waivers from subcontractors and suppliers

  • Check references

  • Ask for the warranty registration process and how to file a claim if something goes wrong.

  • Understand the dispute resolution process before it takes place. 

But, whatever you do, “Don't give large deposits,” he suggested. “Rather use small increments based on stages of projects completed: 25%/25%/25%25% is a good example.” 

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