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Hiring reliable contractors and dealing with their work afterward topped your responses when we asked what you wanted to know about the challenges of home ownership.
Home maintenance is a top concern among Mainers, who have the highest rate of homeownership in the Northeast at 73 percent of homes in the state being owner-occupied. At the same time, the housing boom has stretched out contractors’ schedules, making it harder to get responses if the roof leaks or the furnace goes.
Jennie Gavin-Tremblay of Bangor found that out when she needed a roof repair. Only one of the five contractors she contacted responded. It took eight months to get a metal roof leak fixed on the house she has lived in for six years. She still is having trouble finding someone to do other repairs on the house, including reframing doors and repairing the stairs.
Steph Barrett of Belgrade has struggled to find a contractor to replace her failing septic system and finally found one. But with a cost topping $22,000, she wonders how to know if the new design is a good one for the home where she has lived for 20 years. She also wonders if the price is too expensive and whether she is “getting hosed.”
Here are answers to their questions and others we have fielded on the topic, ranging from how to search for a contractor to how to assure their work is good and what to do if it is not.
How should I budget for maintenance and repairs as my home ages?
Owners should set aside around 1 percent to 4 percent of their home’s value for annual maintenance and repairs, or from $3,000 to $12,000 for a home valued at $300,000, according to insurance company State Farm.
Replacing an asphalt roof can cost up to $11,000, and a furnace can run about $6,000.
It can be costly to delay maintenance. A fixable problem can turn into something unrepairable over time.
How can I find a contractor?
Referrals from friends, family and neighbors who know the work of the contractor they are recommending are a good start. If you need a roofer, and one is working in your neighborhood, look at their work and talk to them.
You could also ask a contractor you trust for a referral to a specialty contractor they know.
Groups on Facebook and other social media platforms focused on your town could be a good way to meet contractors and get comments from those who have used them. Online resources like Angi also can offer names of contractors for your project.
What types of questions should I ask a potential contractor?
Find out how many years they have been in business, their permanent business location, proof of general liability insurance, professional affiliations and proof of workers’ compensation insurance for employees.
How do I know if I will get my money’s worth?
Get estimates from at least three contractors to get an idea of the price range for the work. Also get references from a contractor and check them. Possible references include friends, family, suppliers, architects, home inspectors, lenders and the existing customers.
Consider asking to see examples of work they have completed, especially on big projects. You also can check the Better Business Bureau website to find its accredited contractors, leave a review or file a complaint.
The Maine attorney general’s office maintains a list of home contractors the state has sued successfully for poor workmanship or failure to complete jobs.
What rights do I have as a consumer?
Home contractors are not licensed by the state of Maine. The state licenses plumbers and electricians, who are subject to disciplinary action by their licensing boards. Site evaluators that design septic systems must be licensed by the state, but septic system installers don’t have to be licensed.
The Maine Home Construction Contracts Act requires a written contract between the contractor and the homeowner or lessee with specific provisions when the construction or repair contract tops $3,000.
That includes any work that involves building, remodeling or repairing a residence, including electrical, plumbing and heating work, as well as nonstructural work, such as installing carpets or window replacements.
The contract must limit the down payment to no more than one-third of the total price unless both parties agree to other terms. The contract must have certain provisions including the total contract price, the estimated dates the work will begin and end and a description of the work and materials.
It must also include an express warranty of good workmanship. Any change in the work or materials that alters the contract price must be stated in a written change order signed by both parties.
You should also get a contract for smaller jobs so you and the contractor understand the scope of the service to be provided, the total cost and the payment terms. You can find out more about what constitutes a binding contract on the attorney general’s website.
What if the contractor’s work was poor or they used defective materials?
This situation can be complicated and quickly turn to finger-pointing. The owner may not like the work. The contractor could say the owner is too picky.
The quality of the work is subjective and best judged by a qualified independent contractor. That person should provide you with a written report that includes the work done, its value and the cost to correct it. Then write to your contractor detailing the problems and asking them to pay for your losses. You do not have to let them try to fix the work.
If you are not satisfied with their response, you can sue for damages.
What if the contractor simply doesn’t show up?
Send them a letter saying you are canceling the contract and want your money back. Give them up to 30 days to respond. If they don’t return the money, you can sue them.
What are my legal options?
A breach of contract occurs if a carpenter fails to finish a job or a homeowner cannot make the entire payment, according to the attorney general’s office. The remedies for the victim of a breach depend on whether there are major or minor damages.
The attorney general advises first complaining directly to the business. If that doesn’t work, try mediation. The office’s consumer mediation service is currently backed up, but you still can file an online complaint.
You could consider bringing a case yourself in Small Claims Court but that is limited to judgments of $6,000 or less.
How can I protect myself?
Check with your municipality to see if permits are required for the work and if your work conforms to existing codes.
Ask for written receipts so you can prove you paid for the services you received.
Have your contractor provide proof of up-to-date general liability insurance and proof of workers’ compensation insurance in case a worker is hurt on the job.