So you think you've had contractor nightmares. I know I have. But I guarantee ours wither like flowers by the fire compared to what Linda Lipofsky's been through.
The story begins in August 2004 when hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanine blew through the Southeast, leaving behind billions of dollars in havoc. The gales destroyed the Orlando home where Lipofsky, 66, a retired textbook editor, had lived for 20 years. Shortly after the hurricanes, Lipofsky, like millions of others, tried to find a contractor to repair her roof.
All the roofing contractors were busy. She couldn't even get an insurance adjuster out to take a look. Meanwhile, the rain kept falling.
It took a full year before Lipofsky got some money from her insurance company, which she used to hire a contractor.
He did a shoddy roof job, slapped up some siding that didn't stick, hired incompetent workers, and took the rest of the insurance money without finishing the job.
Just when she thought the situation could not get worse, her insurance company went under, and the publishing company she worked for made some drastic cutbacks.
“I'd lost everything,” she said. “I lost hope.”
Then in August, Lipofsky and her daughter — whom she eventually moved in with — saw a promotion for an organization that helps homeowners who've suffered setbacks fix their houses.
She dashed off an email.
“Her timing was good,” said Tim Parsons, associate director for Rebuilding Together, which is based in Washington, D.C., and has 200 affiliates nationwide.
“By using donated supplies and volunteers, we turned one dollar into three,” Parsons said.
Eight years later, Lipofsky is finally moving back into her house.
“We see a fair amount of contractor fraud because we work with a lot of low-income folks, often seniors, who are the most vulnerable,” Parsons said, who along with Lipofsky, offered this advice. Heed it, and avoid your own remodeling horror story:
If you're looking to renovate after a disaster has affected many homes in your area, be especially wary.
When considering a contractor, talk to people in the area he or she has done work for.
Be highly suspicious of contractors who come in from long distances or other states.
Never sign a long-term contract. Approve work in stages, sign for it in steps, and pay for it in pieces.
Ask to see receipts for the materials allegedly purchased.
Check ratings of companies online through public sites like Home Advisor or Angie's List.
Find a homeowner who has been through the process before. Ask for his or her advice, guidance and recommendations.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.