Home Improvement Scams to Watch Out For

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Our homes typically represent the largest investment most of us will engage in our lifetime.  Home improvement may potentially reach the cost of a new car, typically our second largest single lifetime investment.  Usually, such an endeavor is met with satisfaction once completed, but it can have ups and down during the process and can be challenging in the planning stages.

However, no one, in planning a home improvement project, plans to be taken by a scam.  Or do we, even unwittingly?  They say that a failure to plan is a plan to fail.  With regard to the potential to be scammed in home improvement, planning for it is the best defense against it.  If we know what home improvement scams to watch for, we should then be able to plan for them and prevent them from spoiling our satisfaction.

There are a few major types of scams we should be wise to recognize and avoid:

  • Grammar scams
  • Here today, gone tomorrow scams
  • Workmanship scams

Grammar scams is a tongue-in-cheek reference to what might otherwise be called “shmooze;” the skillful representation in words by a contractor who will impress you with a good line while reaching into your pocketbook, often without your knowledge until your pocket has been picked.

“This is such a good deal, I can only offer it today.”  Any legitimate offer made today ought to be good tomorrow and the next day.  Sale offers like this may be effective with merchandise in the warehouse of a store they wish to clear to make room for new merchandise.  But a home improvement contractor is typically beginning a job without inventory of significance; usually, no materials purchasing begin until the contract is signed.

“I am currently working in your neighborhood.”  If the contractor is not local, you should be concerned.  Even if the contractor is across town, it should not be a hardship to offer you the same service for the same charge offered in his neighborhood.  He is the one responsible to engage a contract he can live with, traveling to and from your home without hardship to him.

“I need full payment in cash up front.”  While it is not unusual and unreasonable for a contractor to ask for a partial payment up front for materials purchases for your project, it should never be necessary to make it a cash payment.  You should certainly be concerned if the request is for the total project cost, which should be contracted for payment in two or three installments.

Here today, gone tomorrow scams are the favorite tactic of out-of-town contractors, which is another reason why you should be concerned with entertaining a proposal from a contractor with out-of-state vehicle plates.  In particular, don’t be swayed by a contractor who requests full payment up front, or even a partial payment in cash.  You may kiss the cash goodbye without any work being performed.

Such scamming contractors may offer a contract, but if the contract looks like slick, professional paperwork, but has no reference to a business address, telephone or email, the tool you should use is a pair of scissors instead of a pen.

Some contractors will come out of the woodwork offering a “free home inspection” coupled with an announcement of a government grant to offer homeowners an upgrade to their insulation, roofing, sheathing, plumbing or electrical to meet new code requirements, all with available tax credits on the backend.  This offer is typically engaged with one of the grammar scams; anything to encourage your agreement on the spot.

Workmanship scams are the most difficult to capture before signing a contract because they will not be evident until te project is complete.  Also, it depends on your ability to recognize good vs. poor materials and workmanship.  If you do not know the difference between a granite countertop and a synthetic material, and how that countertop should be installed to be smooth, flat, crease-free, with proper sealing and expectation of longevity, you could be taken by a material substitution and poor workmanship for which you will pay profit-laden top dollar.

The best way to avoid these scams is to first be aware of them, then look for clues that they are a possible tactic used by a contractor.  Look for out-of-state vehicle plates, a reluctance to offer references of satisfied customers, demands for up-front full payment and a lack of a business address.  Know your neighborhood.  A mail drop may look like a legitimate business address.

Remember that your state will generally have a 3-day grace period after you have signed a contract.  Use the time before and after a contract signature to do your due diligence to be sure your home improvement project is not just another scam.

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