A national survey has named home improvement the leading source of consumer complaints for the second time in three years. Fifty-nine percent of consumer agencies listed home improvement in their top five complaint areas for 2001, according to the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators survey. "Household goods" placed second, with 54%.

NACAA polls its 165 consumer agency members annually. This year, 41 agencies participated.

The survey results frustrated Julius Lowenberg, president of NARI. "When you get this kind of publicity it gives us all a black eye," Lowenberg says. "It gives the respectable remodeler a black eye too, not just the fly-by-nights."

Home improvement has now appeared in the survey's top three every year since 1997. The trend will likely continue: This year's survey rated home improvement the fastest growing complaint area.

Kevin McNulty, executive vice president and COO of NARI, said the industry's growth contributes to the problem.

Consumer demand has exceeded the number of qualified remodelers, he says. Many have rushed to fill the void, but the industry's barrier to entry is low. New remodelers lack customer service skills, McNulty says. "There are a lot of great craftspeople out there, but they haven't got the whole package."

Remodelers need to realize their work is disruptive to customers, McNulty says. A lack of professionalism can quickly create tension.

The survey also, for the second straight year, named home repair contractors most likely to go out of business and open under a new name.

Nancy Sabella, executive director of NACAA, says consumers need to know remodelers will stand by their work.

"[Remodelers] have to find ways to demonstrate that they are legitimate," Sabella says. "It's very important for contractors to convey to the customer they are professionals and are in it for the long run -- that they will be there tomorrow and the next day."