If you own a home, you’ve probably needed to make repairs. Homeowners are sometimes approached with offers to make repairs for little cost. Sometimes these offers are scams. Before you hire someone to work on your home, check out these tips on how to identify and avoid a home improvement scam.
Warning Signs of a Home Improvement Scam
Here’s an example of how the scams work: Someone contacts you to fix your roof, repave your driveway, install solar panels or new windows, or make home repairs for a “deal”. They may come to your door claiming to be doing work at another home in the neighborhood. To get the “deal” you need to pay up-front. They rush you into paying before you’ve had time to check them out and think things over for a few days. They may even pressure you to get started right away. This is when the homeowner needs to put on the brakes.
Many homeowners have fallen victim to scammers by being rushed. They make out the check, give their payment information, or even hand over cash to have work done. Before they realize it, the scammer has made off with their money. Or the person does shoddy work, leaving the home in need of more repairs and having to pay more money to fix what the scammer damaged. Others talk homeowners into home repair loans that turn out to be a bad deal. The homeowner is left in a bad financing agreement that puts their house at risk.
How to Avoid Being Scammed
Always check out anyone you pay to provide repair services. Some jobs require the person to be licensed and bonded. Check with your local licensing bureau or agency to ensure the person or business is properly listed and in good standing.
It’s also a good idea to shop around and compare a few businesses before deciding on one. Ask people you trust for recommendations and get written estimates from at least three companies. A written estimate should include a description of the work to be done, materials, completion date, and the price. Check out references and, if possible, review photos of the work or visit the job site.
Check out reviews from customers and also complaints. Complaints can reveal information that can help you make an informed decision. How a business handles complaints is important information that homeowners want to consider when deciding on a home improvement job. You should check with Business Consumer Alliance at www.checkbca.org for a reputation report, as well as your local home builders association, and consumer protection agencies for any complaints or warnings about the contractor.
Always get a written contract before any work begins. Don’t just go by the words the person uses to convince you—be sure the terms are in writing and that the contract accurately reflects what was discussed and agreed upon. Your contract should include the contractor’s name, address, phone and license number, an estimated start and completion date, labor and material costs, any verbal promises made regarding the work, and your right to cancel. There should be no blank spaces on the contract. Ask questions and make sure you agree completely with the contract before signing and making any payments. Don’t let any work start until the contract is signed by both you and the contractor. This is for the protection of both parties. If an issue occurs and there isn’t a contract, you have little protection because it will be your word against theirs. Always get a contract.
Don’t rush to hire anyone before you’ve done your due diligence. It’s your money and your home so you have the power to decide when and if you will hire someone. High-pressure tactics are a red flag and may be a sign that you should walk away and consider someone else.
Never pay in cash, wire money, or pay for services with a gift or cash reload card. These payment options offer little recourse if you are scammed or if a problem arises. Also be wary of mobile app payments such as CashApp, Venmo, etc. It is best to pay with a credit card or check. If possible, secure your own financing instead of agreeing to a loan the contractor offers. Never make the full payment before the project is complete. Check with your state or local authority for any limitations on how much a contractor can ask for as a down payment. Keep to the scheduled payment arrangement and don’t get ahead of the project work. If work is delayed, your payments will be also.
Always keep track of all paperwork including the contract, estimates, payment records, correspondence regarding the project, and progress photos. This is your evidence if something goes wrong.
Where to Get Help
If you run into a problem with the project, immediately contact the contractor to discuss it and work out a resolution. If an agreement can’t be arranged, you can contact BCA to file a complaint. You can also get help from your local home builders association, licensing authority, state attorney general or other consumer protection office.
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