Is it a nightmare?

"We've all heard stories about HVAC contractors who show up for a service call, don't fix the heating or air conditioning problem, and then expect payment. When the unfortunate homeowner refuses to pay, s/he risks being harassed by collectors or having a lien put on the property. When this happened to a condominium owner in Chicago, he had to take the contractor to small claims court. While these stores are few and far between, they're also serious -- how can you prevent this nightmare from happening to you?

First and foremost, do your research. Ask friends and acquaintances for recommendations. Check for the HVAC company on consumer complaint sites such as those often run by state and city governments. Call your local Better Business Bureau. If you live in a state that licenses HVAC contractors, make sure your contractor has the required licenses. Look for contractors belonging to professional societies or with certifications from organizations like North American Technician Excellence (NATE). Do some of this research ahead of time, so you have two or three possible contractors to call in an emergency.

When asking former clients about a contractor, listen to their replies carefully. If they seem unenthusiastic or lukewarm in their comments, it may be a sign of problems. Be sure to ask about the responsiveness of the contractor, whether the work was performed on time and within budget, and whether they've experienced any subsequent problems. If they have, find out how the contractor handled those problems and whether they abided by any promised warranty period or maintenance schedule."

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