• Home Im­prove­ment Scams

Log Home Living - - CONTENTS -

You might think you know how to spot a scam artist, but own­ing a home opens up a whole new av­enue of po­ten­tial fraud most peo­ple have never con­sid­ered. Homeim­prove­ment scams prey on des­per­ate or op­ti­mistic home­own­ers (es­pe­cially ones who have ex­pe­ri­enced a dis­as­ter of some kind) who are grate­ful for the chance to ren­o­vate or re­store their home on the cheap. What seems like a great deal can quickly turn into a night­mare.

Here are three of the most com­mon home im­prove­ment scams — and how to rec­og­nize them be­fore it’s too late.

1 Nat­u­ral Dis­as­ter Spe­cial­ists

Af­ter a flood, tor­nado or hur­ri­cane, it’s com­mon to see con­trac­tors go­ing door-to-door of­fer­ing their ser­vices. For distraught home­own­ers, this kind of service can look like a bless­ing — es­pe­cially when other com­pa­nies have long wait lists.

Un­for­tu­nately, shady op­por­tunists pop up af­ter nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. Th­ese scam­mers prey on peo­ple when they’re at their most vul­ner­a­ble. Usu­ally, their work is se­cond-rate and by the time you dis­cover the prob­lem, it’s too late. They’ve al­ready left with your in­sur­ance money, and you have to pay an­other crew out of pocket to fix their mis­takes.

2 Left­over Sup­plies

One pop­u­lar scam is the con­trac­tor who knocks on your door to say they just com­pleted a job for your neigh­bor, have some left­over sup­plies and can of­fer you a great deal on a new project.

It’s per­fect tim­ing. You’ve been want­ing a new deck for a while, but there hasn’t been enough room in your bud­get. Now you can get the deck you want for half the price.

Rep­utable home im­prove­ment com­pa­nies don’t just wan­der around try­ing to find cus­tomers to pawn off their ex­tra ma­te­ri­als. The con­trac­tor who tries this trick is hop­ing you’ll fall for the “good deal” with­out check­ing their cre­den­tials. Chances are, they’ll ei­ther take your money and run or do a bad job.

3 Free Mold Test­ing

A man knocks on your door and says he’s of­fer­ing free mold test­ing. You let him in, and he finds sev­eral ar­eas of your home where mold is grow­ing un­be­knownst to you. Thank­fully, he says he can re­move the mold right then and there.

No one wants to live in a house filled with mold, es­pe­cially if you have children or pets. Un­for­tu­nately, this con­trac­tor is likely not a mold re­moval spe­cial­ist. He’s some­one who makes a liv­ing con­vinc­ing peo­ple there’s a prob­lem and then im­me­di­ately promis­ing to fix it. Of­ten, the house in ques­tion doesn’t have any mold – and if it does, he won’t have the right tools to take care of it on the spot. He may be scout­ing your house to rob it or try­ing to get you to com­mit to pay­ing im­me­di­ately to scam you out of money.

How to Avoid Home Im­prove­ment Scams

Be­fore sign­ing a con­tract or putting down a de­posit, ver­ify the con­trac­tor’s cre­den­tials by check­ing his/her state li­cense and bond­ing sta­tus, ask­ing for proof of in­sur­ance and vis­it­ing the Better Busi­ness Bureau web­site. You can also ask friends, fam­ily and neigh­bors

for re­fer­rals, or use sites like Nextdoor, Yelp, or Angie’s List to get reviews.

Only con­sider con­trac­tors who have a per­for­mance surety bond, which will pro­tect you if the con­trac­tor fails to com­plete the job. If this hap­pens, you can file a claim on the bond and re­coup the losses.

Other com­mon warn­ing signs in­clude con­trac­tors who want to be paid in cash, refuse to sign a con­tract, want to forego build­ing permits or ex­pect 100 per­cent pay­ment up front. Be wary of peo­ple whose bids are far lower than other com­pa­nies, as it might be a sign they don’t ac­tu­ally in­tend to com­plete the work. As the say­ing goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it usu­ally is.

It’s also a good idea to get an es­ti­mate or project scope in writ­ing that clearly states the work that will be done, re­quired de­posits and pay­ment amounts, as well as the time frame for com­ple­tion.

What to Do If You’re a Vic­tim

If you be­lieve you’ve been scammed by a con­trac­tor, ad­dress it with him first be­fore you take le­gal ac­tion. He may be will­ing to re­fund your money in or­der to avoid a long, drawnout le­gal bat­tle. Al­ways com­mu­ni­cate with the con­trac­tor in writ­ing — not by phone, which won’t hold up in court. If you send him a let­ter, use cer­ti­fied mail so you can prove he re­ceived it.

If the con­trac­tor fails to re­spond, your next best re­course is to file a suit in small claims court, as long as the amount you’re owed falls within those pa­ram­e­ters. Each state has dif­fer­ent guide­lines on what you can do and what amounts you can col­lect in small claims court, so check with your state’s At­tor­ney Gen­eral site. Bring doc­u­men­ta­tion of what he promised to do and pho­tos of what he ac­tu­ally did. You can also file an of­fi­cial com­plaint with the city or

state con­sumer pro­tec­tion of­fice and with your lo­cal home builders as­so­ci­a­tion.

Many news sta­tions have re­porters who spe­cial­ize in con­sumer is­sues, and they love stories of in­no­cent peo­ple be­ing ripped off by shady con­trac­tors. Fi­nally, Google, Yelp and Face­book reviews on the con­trac­tor’s page won’t get you your money back, but it could get the com­pany’s at­ten­tion in or­der to not have bad com­ments show­ing and might dis­suade other con­sumers from fall­ing for the same trick.

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