Doorstep Deals Indeed Are Much Too Good to Be True

In the movie "Tin Men," the character played by Richard Dreyfuss and his partner work one of the older scams in the aluminum siding game: the model.

Your house will be a model, they tell the homeowners. That's why we'll charge so little to put siding on your house.

In Southern California, aluminum siding is not the big seller it is in the Northeast, of course, but the warning against salesmen pitching your house as a model and thus eligible for a "sharply discounted" re-stuccoing job, or new roofing, or painting, or whatever, still holds true, according to the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California.

"Be suspicious of a door-to-door salesperson who uses high-pressure tactics, pitches a special price or says he will use your home as a model," the industry cautions in its tip sheet on "How to Choose a Remodeler."

While there is nothing wrong with a reputable contractor pounding on your front door looking for business, "legitimate firms do not use enticements or high-pressure tactics to get jobs," the association says.

The group advises anyone planning a remodeling to gather the names of several remodelers. Ask friends or neighbors for suggested companies. Get several customer references from each remodeler and call them. Take a look at their finished jobs. Ask whether the contractor has before-and-after pictures of his work.

Make sure the contractor is licensed and insured, check the Better Business Bureau for complaints and call the company's bank and suppliers to make sure that it is financially stable.

"Get estimates in writing and compare design plans, grade and quantity of materials, brand of appliances or products and length of time projected for the job," the association says.

Make sure you can communicate with the person who will be doing the work. It's up to the contractor to put your ideas into working drawings, in most cases. Make sure he understands you and you understand him.

Be willing to take suggestions; remodelers may have run into problems similar to the ones you are facing and may recommend solutions. If a change is needed after work begins, make sure you know how that will affect the cost and completion date.

"Above all, get everything in writing," the association advises.

"Your contract should specify the responsibilities and obligations of both parties. It should list the quantity of materials, styles and brand names of products, a firm price for the work and a payment schedule."

Association members say the general contractor or subcontractors will generally obtain city or county permits for the work to be done, although homeowners may get the permits themselves.

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