‘Tis the season for home improvements, and the New York State Consumer Protection Board (CPB), with the help of professional advice from the New York State Builders Association (NYSBA), is announcing its new “Ask the Expert” program for consumers who are looking for reliable project information to help assure that their hard-earned money is spent wisely. The CPB’s “Ask the Expert” will provide the ultimate home improvement tool, a web portal at www.nysconsumer.gov/asktheexpert for Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and an e-mail address of asktheexpert (at) consumer.state.ny (dot) us, through which consumers can submit questions related to home-improvements.
“Our homes are our castles, representing one of the biggest investments people ever make” said Mindy A. Bockstein, Chairperson and Executive Director of the CPB. “Sadly, the CPB addresses thousands of complaints involving home improvement contractors, but it doesn’t have to be that way! With so much money at stake, our collaborative ‘Ask the Expert’ program will help protect consumers by providing them with reputable information they can count on upfront – – before they contract for home improvements.”
According to the United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), American consumers spend hundreds of millions of dollars on home improvement projects or products annually. The CPB’s “Ask the Expert” program enables consumers to access an online form, and submit a question in one of several areas including remodeling, refinishing, electrical, floor coverings, painting, plumbing, heating and cooling, among others. For example, should a consumer wish to replace the carpeting in their home over a concrete floor, they may want to know the best materials for that purpose, and information about installation. While questions or price quotations related to a specific site or repair can only be answered by a contractor who visually inspects the site, general consumer questions and answers can be of benefit to people who are considering, but who have not begun work or hired a contractor, for a project.
“New Yorkers who want to maintain and increase the value of their homes need a place to which they could turn so they could be confident in the information they receive,” Chairperson Bockstein continued. “Our ‘Ask the Expert’ program will provide just that. Working with the NYS Builders Association we will increase industry information and transparency and afford consumers with a single-point-of-entry for needed home-improvement information. For consumers, it’s as simple as asking a question that can apply to multiple situations and getting a timely and informative answer.”
Consumers will be able to browse through previously answered questions in the Archive section, and, if they do not see an answer relevant to their situation, they can “Ask the Expert” to answer a new question. In most situations, appropriate questions and answers will be posted the week following submission by the consumer. The CPB, together with the NYSBA, will make every effort to provide answers for all the topic areas and/or questions received, however, due to the expected high volume of questions, the Agency may not be able to answer every question.
“The New York State Builders Association and our 4,000 builder and remodeler members view ‘Ask the Expert’ as an ideal opportunity to offer our members professional guidance and experience to all New York homeowners (or soon to be homeowners),” said NYSBA Executive Vice President Philip LaRocque. “We are excited to be partnering with the New York State Consumer Protection Board on this beneficial project.”
In order to protect the identity and integrity of consumers, the only personal information collected for the initiative is a consumer’s city and State of residence, the project type and the question posed. No other personal information will be collected or publicized. This site is being created for general and informational purposes only and is not designed to replace an actual visual inspection, evaluation or estimate for any home maintenance or improvement project. Any discussion of costs or contractor prices will be used for illustrative purposes only. Answers provided are intended to give general guidance and direction. Consumers with serious issues in need of attention should consult directly with a professional.
Home improvements must conform to the New York State Building Code and any applicable local codes which can be checked at the Department of State website: http://www.dos.state.ny.us/CODE/LS-CODES.HTML. Consumers are advised to check their local authorities to see if home improvement professionals have a record of compliance with the Home Improvement Contract law (New York State General Business Law Article 36-A) and any other local ordinance.
In addition to the “Ask the Expert” program, the CPB features numerous home improvement resources, including a sample contract, for use by the general public. These tools are found under the “Home Ownership” icon on the CPB website at www.nysconsumer.gov.
The NYS CPB, established in 1970 by the New York State Legislature, is the State’s top consumer watchdog and think tank. The CPB’s core mission is to protect New Yorkers by publicizing unscrupulous and questionable business practices and product recalls; conducting investigations and hearings; enforcing the “Do Not Call” law; researching issues; developing legislation; creating consumer education programs and materials; responding to individual marketplace complaints by securing voluntary agreements; and, representing the interests of consumers before the Public Service Commission and other State and federal agencies.