Detecting Tell-tale signs of home maintenance contractor scams
“Catch a Contractor” is a very popular television show on Spike in which the host, Adam Carolla, his private investigator wife, and a no-nonsense master builder set up fake jobs to catch contractors who have repeatedly screwed homeowners over. Once shoddy contractors are “caught” on camera, they are given a redemption opportunity by fixing the unacceptable jobs left behind.
In the real world, there are no TV crews and no heroes coming to the homeowner’s aide. The homeowner is normally just left with the mess of an improper or unfinished job. Even with home review sites, like Reliableremodeler.com or Angieslist.com, homeowners still face the dishonesty or low-grade work at the hands of unreliable home improvement contractors.
Like most con-artists, dishonest contractors seem to stick to a few tried and tested approaches when it comes to quickly “earning” the homeowner’s business. Keeping these tips in mind may help keep your next home project from being featured on the local news.
“I’ll need the money up front to pay for materials”—According to the Better Business Bureau, asking for the payment upfront is the most common scam tactic used by shady contractors. As with most home maintenance pros, needing a down payment shows the contractor that the homeowner is serious about moving forward with the project. However, the down payment should only be around 10% of the total project cost. Any other payments should be paid according to the agreed upon schedule negotiated between the two parties—nothing else.
“Ma’am, looks like your roof is about to cave in”—Scare tactics like these are also very popular amongst dishonest contractors. If a contractor has to scare a homeowner into doing business, avoid them at all costs; even if the repair is an emergency. A true professional may give you an honest opinion, but will never use doom and gloom to earn your business.
“Our crew just finished resurfacing your neighbor’s driveway, and I could do yours cheap”—This and any other “we were in the neighborhood” lines are strong warning signs that a contractor could be fishy. Any legitimate pro will not overbuy materials for a specific job and expect to unload them for a discounted price for a neighbor. Also, most professionals will not take on a job without first quoting it properly and using the perspective of getting rid of extra materials as a sales ploy.
“If you ever have a problem, just call me directly”—No matter how sincere a person may sound, never accept a verbal agreement. Make sure that everything agreed upon is in a written contract. If anything goes awry, words will be worthless. Every legitimate contractor will provide written guarantees and scope of work that will specify exactly what work will be performed and the dollar amount due.
“If you pay cash, I can give you a better price”—Under the table deals normally mean that the contractor is not paying taxes and, therefore, is able to slash his or her price. With this tactic, there are no paper records of the work and no written guarantees; so if a problem occurs, the homeowner will not have any recourse for action. Genuine contractors do not participate in this kind of business practices.
In the age of the internet, there are more home contractor review sites than ever before. Whether its lawn care in Marietta, Georgia, or a landscaping service in Lebanon, Tennessee, a quick search for the company or the individual can eliminate a huge headache and money lost. Here is one last tip. Use common sense and your instinct when it comes to hiring anyone. If the deal seems too good to be true or if the person is a little too pushy, trust your hunch. Heeding these warning signs can improve the chances of not uttering “He seemed legit” to your fellow neighbors.