Ocean County Press Release
County Urges Homeowners to Do Their Homework Before Hiring Contractors

WHILE OCEAN County residents continue to rebuild their homes in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Ocean County officials are stressing the importance of doing your due diligence before hiring a contractor.

"With so many homes needing work, it is important for our citizens to make sure the contractor they choose is licensed, registered and is qualified to do the work," said Freeholder Director John P. Kelly, Director of Law and Public Safety. "Under the direction of Freeholder Joseph Vicari, the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs has been proactive in making certain residents know what to look for when choosing a contractor to do work on their home."

Home construction work is moving at an increased pace in areas across Ocean County, with some houses being demolished and rebuilt, others being raised to meet new flood map elevation requirements and others undergoing major renovations in the aftermath of the storm.

"With various grant programs now in place and homeowners reaching decisions on what to do with their homes, our residents are now in the rebuilding phase of the recovery from the storm," Vicari said. "It is now that they especially need to be vigilant when choosing a contractor."

The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act is designed to protect consumers from misrepresentation, fraud and deception in consumer transactions, including contracts for home improvement work. In addition, the Contractors' Registration Act requires home improvement contractors to register with the State. Home improvement contractors had to initially register with the Division of Consumer Affairs by Dec. 31, 2005, and must register annually thereafter, unless specifically exempted.

Home improvement contractors who are not registered with Consumer Affairs will not be issued municipal construction permits and will not be permitted to perform home improvement work in New Jersey.

"Permits are needed for mostly all work that is done on a house," Vicari said. "Permits also are needed for raising a house. Getting a permit from the municipality also helps to protect the homeowner."

Kelly noted that homeowners should ask questions of their potential contractors when it comes to licenses, registrations, references, and work estimates.

"Home repairs can be costly and time consuming," Kelly said. "The first step a homeowner needs to take is to make sure they have a qualified contractor who will do the work as outlined in a contract."

The Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs urges homeowners to follow these tips:
•Contact your local Consumer Affairs Department to see if consumers have filed any complaints against the contractor, and to ensure the contractor is registered.
• Get written estimates from at least three contractors. Ask each contractor how long they have been in business, if they have liability insurance (as required by law), and whether they will be using subcontractors on the project.
• Contact the references your contractor gives you. Ask them whether the job was completed on time, whether there were any unexpected costs, whether the workers showed up on time and cleaned up when they finished, and whether they would use the contractor again.
• Ask your contractor about his or her professional affiliations and confirm the information with those organizations.
• Investigate financing options for your project. Shop for credit and be sure you understand the annual percentage rate you will have to pay.
• Do not pay for the entire job up front. The customary arrangement is one-third in advance, one-third halfway through the job and one-third upon completion. Do not pay with cash.

Ocean County residents can contact the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs by calling 732-929-2105 or by visiting the department on the web at www.co.ocean.nj.us.

"We know this continues to be a very difficult time for so many of our residents that have been devastated by the storm," Vicari said. "We want to do all we can to assist them in finding qualified professionals to get the work done and to get it done right."

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