Contract with Care Homeowner Scams & How to Avoid Them

You can always count on certain things when you purchase a home, like monthly payments, property taxes and maintenance costs. Unfortunately, scams that target property holders are also an increasingly common part of the homeowner experience. The good news is, you can avoid being duped into paying too much for poor – and often unnecessary – work and repairs on your home by unethical contractors. The key is to know who to watch out for, what tactics they’ll use, and how to avoid getting entangled with them.

The basic scenario

It’s not uncommon for scam artists to circulate neighborhoods (most often it’s a male, or a group of 2-4 of them), knocking on doors or politely chatting people up as they work in their yards. The scenario goes something like this:

  • He says he just finished a project nearly and has some leftover materials.
  • He noticed that your house needs roof, repairs, painting, asphalt driveway sealing, tree trimming or something else.
  • He claims to be able to offer an unbeatable deal.. but it’s only good for that day.

His price is really great. But if you take the bait, that’s when the scam kicks in: he’ll most likely use very cheap or defective materials, do poor work, and try to charge a lot more than the original estimate. If you complain about the poor workmanship or inflated price, he can become demanding or try to bully and intimidate you. But even if you pay for work that looks satisfactory, there’s a high probability that you’ll encounter issues not far down the line. And by then, it’s unlikely you’ll have any recourse if there are serious problems.

Red flags

Legitimate professionals and companies sometimes canvass neighborhoods to hand out brochures and introduce themselves. Scammers try to drum up business on the spot. Some things to watch out for:

  • Out-of-state license plates on a pickup or van (even a new one).
  • A price that’s too good to be true.
  • “Today’s Only” offers.
  • People who come out of the woodwork after a damaging thunderstorm, hurraicane or other weather event that causes damage to house
  • A very demanding, itimidating reaction when you complain about poor workmanship or inflated price.
  • Someone who claims to be a building inspector or other government office but “just doesn’t look right”

How to avoid being cheated

The golden rules:

  • Just say no. Do not use door-to-door contractors – especially ones who use the tactics above.
  • Ask to see their identification, license to perform the work they’re offering, and insurance document (but remember: anyone with a computer and printer can forge these).
  • If someone says he’s a city or other government official, phone the department or agency to check.
  • Never make any payment in advance.
  • Demand a written contract or agreement covering:
    • The work to be done.
    • Times of start and completion.
    • Amount you’ll owe when the work is done and you’re satisfied with it.
    • A breakdown of all charges

There are plenty of deceitful contractors out there whose only goal is to separate you, as a homeowner, from your money. With the guidelines above, you’ll be able to assess the situation and avoid them for good.

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