A Beverly Hills couple thought they found the perfect contractor to help them remodel their home. Now, they worry they have made a $20,000 mistake.
When Ruth to the Rescue visited Danielle Watson, she showed us the garage that was supposed to be turned into extra living space, and the driveway where a new garage was going to be built.
"We were excited, and thinking about growing our family, and doing all that fun stuff," said Danielle Watson, of Beverly Hills.
Through the home repair grapevine, she found a company called Latimer's Layouts. Danielle and her husband were impressed by the company's website, and owner Eric Latimer's personality. They thought his company was the perfect choice.
"My husband and I both looked and each other and thought, and said, 'I really hope he's not a farce because he's such a great guy.'"
Latimer showed them blueprints and gave them a $38,500 quote-- and promised he would start the job quickly when he was hired in December,2012. The Watsons gave him at $20,000 deposit.
"It was really exciting to work with him. He seemed really down-to-earth," Danielle remembers.
Delays and Dodging Calls
After they hired Latimer's Layouts, the Watsons waited for the project to begin. At first, they thought there was some movement toward a start date, but then a series of delays kept pushing things back.
Finally, in April, Latimer said he was ready to start the job, but they had lost faith in him and asked for their money back. Danielle Watson says Latimer said he would refund the money. However, he never followed through.
"Then it was not taking our phone calls, then it was only responding by text, then it was silence."
The Watsons contacted Ruth to the Rescue, and we contacted Eric Latimer. By phone, he told Ruth to the Rescue, he's having trouble with a subcontractor. Latimer says he wants to pay the Watsons back, but he doesn't have the money right now.
Danielle Watson says she can't believe it's gone this far, and she's warned Latimer he will not keep their money, "Don't think that you're going to keep this money. And, it was like, we will find you! I will get this money back from you."
Ruth to the Rescue asked Latimer to sit down with Local 4 Consumer Expert Ruth Spencer to tell his side of the story. He has not responded to that request. We will keep you posted if he lives up to his promise to repay the Watsons.
How to Protect Yourself
Ruth to the Rescue contacted the Better Business Bureau about the best guidelines to follow when hiring a contractor. Here are some of the suggested steps you should take before signing on the dotted line with any company.
-Get recommendations from friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, insurance agents or claims adjusters. Also ask contractors for names of previous customers and check with Better Business Bureau website, www.easternmichiganbbb.org, for information on area contractors.
-Get a written estimate. Make sure the estimate includes labor and material costs, as well as, project start and completion dates. Compare services and prices before making a final selection.
-Research proof of current and up-to-date contractor licensing and registration with state regulators PRIOR to hiring. Don’t just go with a verbal, “Yes, we have those things.” Contact the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and/or this link.
-Make sure the contractor carries general liability insurance and workers' compensation. If the contractor is not insured, your home or business may be liable for accidents that occur on the property. The above regulatory agencies give guidelines on how to verify this.
-Insist on a written contract. A contract should clearly state all tasks to be performed, all costs and the payment schedule. Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces. Make sure the contract states who will apply for the necessary permits or licenses. Keep a copy for your files.
-Get any guarantees in writing. Any guarantees made by the contractor should be written into the contract. The guarantee should clearly state what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee and how long the guarantee is valid.
-Make final payment only when the work is completed. Do not sign completion papers or make the final payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction. A reputable contractor will not threaten or pressure you to sign if the job is not finished properly.
-Resist dealing with any contractor who asks you to pay for the entire job up-front. A deposit of one-third of the total price is standard procedure. Pay only by check or credit card - and pay the final amount only after the work is completed to your satisfaction. Don't pay cash.
-Canceling a contract. This should be done within three business days of signing. Be sure to follow the procedures for cancellation that are set out in the contract. Send the notification by registered mail with a return receipt to be signed by the contractor.
-Consumer complaints. May be filed with the BBB at: www.bbb.org <http://www.bbb.org/> as well as with the state regulators mentioned above. A dual complaint can be filed with your state Attorney General's office, as well.