By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff
When looking for someone to hire to do home modifications there are several key things to consider as you make the best choice for yourself. Home modifications are sometimes tricky. Some builders who have never done them before think they are no different than any other remodel job. This is just not the case. Just like you would not want your dentist to learn how to fill a cavity on you, it is easier, less stressful, and smoother to work with a builder that has experience in the home modifications. Everyone has to learn sometime, but they don’t have to learn on you.
We at Michigan Disability Rights Coalition/Michigan Assistive Technology Program and our partners around the state have seen dozens of ramps that were dangerously installed—very improperly—by well-meaning builders, neighbors and friends. It is a complicated process to correctly install chair lifts, ceiling lifts and other significant structural adjustments. Even grab bars are easily installed the wrong way—giving way when you need them. Then there are scammers on top of the well-meaning but ill-informed people.
The remodeling world is full of sharks who are especially like to prey on older adults and people with disabilities they think they can swindle. News coverage of people who gave a down payment for remodeling or roof work only to have the “builder” never return are far too common and there is an entire television show just about people who have been scammed by builders and left with shoddy work or worse, dangerous situations.
This is not meant to scare you—only to help you prepare to be your own best self-advocate as you look to remodel your home to work better for you.
The Federal Trade Commission and HGTV have excellent articles on hiring a remodeler and the importance of having a contract in writing, and what that contract should include. Take a look at their recommended steps and add them to the Smart Shopper tips on our website. Together these two articles provide an excellent starting point. Keep in mind a couple of other key factors:
- Contact your local Center for Independent Living and Area Agency on Aging. Both of these organizations are connected to reputable builders in their area. Often, the Area Agency on Aging or Home and Community-Based Waiver Agency contracts with local builders themselves to help people stay in their own homes. Centers for Independent Living help people move back to the community after nursing home stays. These organizations will have an idea of who is good and who doesn’t do good work in your area.
- Get multiple bids in writing.
- Find out standard down payments in your area—definitely don’t pay the entire bill up front. In California, the most you should pay for a down payment is 10%–to help protect from scam artists.
- Actually talk to references the re-modeler provides for work similar to what you are considering.
- Work with licensed builders—ask to see a copy of their license. The City of Niles has compiled a great list of Warning Signs a Contractor is unlicensed.
- Make sure the contractor is insured.
- Consider working with builders who have certification as Aging in Place Specialists.
- Only work with builders who are willing to explain things to you in a way you understand and treat you with respect. If they aren’t respectful when they are interviewing to do work for you, it isn’t going to get any better when you hire them.
- If a contractor bids on your project and their price is way below the other bids—be very wary—this is likely a scam. You get what you pay for.
- Try to get referrals from other people with disabilities in your area—word of mouth is a great way to learn about good, reliable builders in your community who know how to do home modifications. Your best bet is to work with someone who is local and has a good reputation with people you talk to.
- Good contractors are often very busy. If someone can do the work right away—this may also be a sign that they are not so good. Consider the additional recommendations on How to Shop for a Contractor.
- Make sure the contractor gets a building permit in their name—so they are liable for the work being done, not you.
- Trust your gut—if you are feeling uneasy, there is a reason, look for someone else.
- While you’re at it, you may want to consider the Michigan Assistive Technology Loan Fund for financing your home modifications.
Do you have tips or experiences to share?