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Senior Citizen's Guide to Detroit

Screening Contractors To Avoid Being "Scammed"

As more older adults wish to "age in place", this way of life is gaining momentum, becoming a more popular option in later years.  Though, it's not a new concept, families are beginning to realize that they or their parents would rather live independently in their own homes or a family member's home for as long as possible.  That is, as long as they can do it safely and conveniently.  In fact, studies from at least 10 years ago show that older adults are happier, healthier and live longer in these surroundings. 

Problem #1:
Most of our houses have too many obstacles to allow us to live there if we are coping with any sort of mobility problem.  Walkers, wheelchairs, arthritis, bad knees, new hips and diabetes are some of the more common conditions that prevent a family member from moving freely around the house.  Therefore, you need to make some modifications your home.

Solution #1:
Take out your hammer, power saw, pipe wrench and pliers and build a ramp to help get in and out of your house.  Then head to the bathroom and put up some grab bars, remove the bathtub, install a roll-in shower, and widen a few doorways so its easier to get your wheelchair around the house.  Is it that simple?  Not for most people.

Solution #2:
Consider hiring a professional.  UGH!!

According the National Association of Home Builders research center's Remodeling for Today & Tomorrow:

Keep in mind that because the older adult population is increasing faster then ever, there are more people for unscrupulous contractors to prey on.  Therefore, unscrupulous contractors are on the rise as well.  So how do you find a qualified, reliable and honest professional who is both licensed, insured and will do a quality job?

Is it impossible?  No.  If you take the time and follow some simple guidelines, you can maximize the chances of finding companies that do a quality job at a fair price and warranty their work!  You also want a specialist who is experienced in barrier free home modifications.

  1. Ask friends and relatives for the names of people they've had success with.  A personal reference from someone you trust is one of the best ways to weed out the bad apples.

  2. Once you get some names, start doing some homework.  Call the state-licensing department to find out if they are licensed in the first place.  A license is important because it shows their level of professionalism. 

  3. If you're internet friendly, look for a website for that company.  Viewing a website usually allows you to see pictures and get information about a contractor.

  4. Contact the company by phone and ask questions.  How long have they been in business?  What is their area of expertise?  How long is their warrantee?   Are they licensed and insured?  How long will a project like yours take to complete? Listen carefully to their answers.  And see if they listen carefully to you.  You want someone who understands your needs.  Don't expect an exact price over the phone.  A ballpark figure may be possible but each project, house, and family is unique and requires a visit.

  5. If they pass all of the above, meet with them at your home, show them around, talk about your project and listen to how they think they can help you.   While they're there, get references, names, phone numbers and ask if you can visit some past clients and see their work.

  6. Ask the builder about their professional affiliations.  True professionals will belong to builders associations, chambers of commerce, have accreditations, pursue continuing education in their field, etc.  

  7. And above all, make sure you see a valid copy of their license and insurance.  Scam artists will show you fraudulent licenses or insurance certificates that have expired or documents that look official, but are not. 

Just remember, nothing is guaranteed, but the more depth a contractor shows, the better off you will be. The more a contractor can prove he/she is involved in their industry following professional practices, the greater the chance that you'll have a successful project.  All of the right things a contractor should do take time, money, and resources. These are the kind of investments a genuine, trustworthy contractor is likely to make.  So please take the time to do your homework so you're not a victim.  And remember to tell everyone you can how wonderful that contractor is.

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