For most people, including contractors themselves, hiring specialists to perform any type of expensive work where they have no expertise is scary. For example, who doesn't dread hearing a "noise" that shouldn't be there coming from the car and realizing the fate of the car-and the wallets-must be placed in the hands of an auto mechanic?

Hiring construction contractors is extremely nerve-wracking to homeowners unless the contractor is hired through word-of-mouth. While Walls & Ceilings columnists write about fair contracts for subcontractors so they have piece of mind about getting paid-remember that homeowners like to see ironclad written representation of the work they are paying for, as well. This is especially of concern since today's headlines love good stories about bad contractors.

For example, thousands of people remain in temporary housing in Florida, months after the hurricanes-meaning the demand for contractors to perform repair work must not be too different from the demand for law men in Tombstone, Ariz., back in the days of Wyatt Earp.

Unfortunately, the media recently revealed that this urgent need has also given life to more than 1,000 cases of contractor fraud, including exploiting the elderly during a state emergency, and contracting without a license.

These "contractors" come at their victims with smiles of friendship and reassurances then proceed to milk the homeowners of their insurance money and disappear, sometimes after "starting" the job-meaning the homes are left in disarray.

As if good construction professionals don't have enough challenges, they, due to incidents like these, have to convince their customers that they are what they say they are: legitimate contractors.

The Florida Dept. of Financial Services offers homeowners some guidelines on how to protect themselves from fraud. Honest contractors can utilize these guidelines as a template for their own companies to be proactive in offering customers reassurance that they are indeed workers of integrity.

The government of Florida is now alerting consumers to be wary of entering into contracts for repairs too quickly before they understand clearly what their obligations are regarding monthly payments and interest rates. Consumers may be offered a contract in which they agree to make monthly payments for the home repairs and, in some cases, a mortgage may be placed against the property as security.

The State of Florida is also reminding construction customers that:

• They are entitled to a copy of the contract at the time it is signed.

• They must keep a copy of the contract to protect their legal rights.

• They must never sign the contract in blank; write N/A on any blank line.

• They are responsible for payments on a home improvement contract where a mortgage is being used as the security. Failure to make payments may result in foreclosure of property.

• Any contract must include the name of the home improvement finance seller.

Homeowners also should know that the contract must be signed by the homeowner and contractor, include a notice of the right to rescind the contract within three business days, and include the approximate dates the work will begin and end. The contract must include the amount financed, down payment amount and any difference between the two.

The contract must detail the insurance coverage and benefits (if purchased), official fees, survey and permit charges, the premiums paid for group credit life or other insurance, and should state which party is to procure the insurance (if purchased). The contract should not have a provision for a power of attorney.

Upon completion of the repairs, the homeowner and contractor must sign a certificate stating all work has been completed. Do not sign a certificate unless all work has been performed. More information is available at

Honest contractors, of course, have no trouble not only adhering to the above but in being proactive reassuring the customer that he abides by such guidelines. Customers want reassurance more than anything-reassurance that the job will be done with quality in a timely manner at a reasonable rate.

Customers have enough to worry about agreeing to pay a lot of money to someone likely a total stranger for work in which they usually have no expertise. Reassuring your customers in writing makes them feel safe and not only gets repeat work but good word-of-mouth.