LARA offers tips to protect consumers

Now that spring is here, many homeowners will start home improvement or building projects indoors and out to spruce up or increase the value of their homes. The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) reminds consumers of important tips that will help them avoid common--and often costly--mistakes while building or renovating their homes.

Verify a Builder/Contractor License

''Selecting a properly licensed contractor is the first and most important step in making home improvements,'' said LARA Director Steven H. Hilfinger. ''Ask to see a copy of their license then take a few minutes to look up the license online or give us a call. Those few minutes spent at the beginning of the project may prevent big problems later.''

Residential Builders and Maintenance and Alteration Contractors: An online license search is available at http:// www.michigan.gov/licenselookup or by calling LARA's Bureau of Commercial Services Licensing Division at (517) 373-8376.

Contractors:Electricians, plumbers and mechanical contractors are licensed by LARA's Bureau of Construction Codes and must have a license that corresponds to the work to be done. Mechanical contractors must also have the proper license classification. To verify license information visit www.michigan.gov/bcclicense or call (517) 241-9313.

Online Referral and Advertising Sites

An Internet search for builders or contractors will yield service provider referral sites and advertising sites such as Craigslist. Many of the ads will state that the individual is licensed. Regardless of the source of the referral, consumers should exercise caution and not assume that these individuals are licensed or that they're reputable. Always confirm that the builder or contractor is properly licensed in the state of Michigan.

Don't Pay in Advance

Consumers should never give a contractor a large sum of money prior to work being done.

''Consumers should never pay for the entire job in advance or before their project is completed,'' Hilfinger said. ''Customarily, pay no more than one third of the total contract price in advance.

Homeowners are inviting trouble if they pay the full contract price amount at the start of a job or prior to completion.''

Pay in partial payments or installments as different stages are completed, especially on large projects. This way, if the work is not proceeding according to schedule, the payments also are delayed. Pay only by check or credit card, not cash. Before you make that final payment, make sure the job is complete, you have inspected and approved the work, the job site has been cleaned up, and the suppliers and contractors have been paid.

Don't Forget Your Permit!

Before starting a project, check with your local or state building department to determine if your project requires a permit. A permit provides the legal permission to start construction of a building project in accordance with approved drawings and specifications.

Permits are required for:

* New buildings

* Additions (bedrooms, bathrooms, family rooms, etc.)

* Residential work (decks, garages, fences, fireplaces, pools, water heaters, etc.)

* Renovations (garage conversions, basement furnishings, kitchen expansions, reroofing, etc.)

* Electrical systems

* Plumbing systems

* HVAC (heating, ventilating and air-conditioning) systems

''In today's economy, do-it-yourself home improvement projects make financial sense. But it's important for homeowners to remember that even if they do the work themselves, they are responsible for obtaining building permits too,'' Hilfinger said. ''Checking with your local or state building officials ahead of time could save you costly mistakes in the long run.''

A permit ensures that the proposed construction meets minimum safety standards and allows code officials to protect the public by reducing potential hazards of unsafe construction. Property insurers may not cover work done without permits and inspections, so the value of the property could be affected and problems may arise when the property is sold.

For more information, visit the Bureau of Commercial Services website at www.michigan.gov/bcs or

Bureau of Construction Codes at www.michigan.gov/bcc.

Copyright © 2012 State of Michigan

Published: Thu, May 24, 2012

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