Poke your head outside the door on any nice weekend and listen. There’s no denying the echoing thumps of a hammer, the high-pitched squeals of a table saw and the massive pileup of home improvement flyers and advertisements on the front porch. That’s right, home improvement season is officially here.
If you’re planning to spend money on home improvements this year, you’re not alone. According to a recent SunTrust Banks survey more than 36 percent of homeowners plan to spend at least $5,000 on home improvement projects, while almost 20 percent plan to spend $10,000 or more!
Whether you’re adding a deck, replacing a roof or installing new windows there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to hire a professional contractor to help you get the job done. The majority of home improvement contractors are honest, hardworking people, but if you’re not careful, you could be taken by a bad apple.
“Scammers work by getting you off balance,” says Mark Clement from home and design blog MyFixitUpLife. “If you feel off-balance or rushed or they’re not willing to come back, they’re probably hiding something,” says Clement.
He says one scam that stands out to him is the door knocking scam. Typically, this happens when someone comes to your door and offers you some sort of a free inspection. “It’s usually for something you’ll know almost nothing about, like your chimney,” says Clement.
Experts agree this scam is common. “Since the industry is self-regulated, anyone can setup shop as a chimney sweep without experience, knowledge or know-how,” says Sara Zuckerman, who represents Valley Chimney Sweep & Restoration in Illinois. “To get started, they might offer heavily discounted services. And many times, those ‘cheap’ cleanings come with some unwarranted advice requiring some heavy duty repairs or replacements,” says Zuckerman. She says homeowners need to do their homework and make sure they understand suggested repairs. “If you’re using a new chimney sweep and they recommend repairs, make sure you understand why.”
Another scam taking homeowners for their hard earned money is roofing scams. One of the most popular roofing scam involves storm chasers. According to Angie’s List storm chasers travel the country chasing wild weather looking for desperate and frustrated homeowners to exploit. These storm chasers may or may not be actual roofers. They tell homeowners their roofs have been damaged by the recent bad weather and that they can fix it for a great deal. The homeowner hands over money and the storm chaser does a shoddy job fixing the roof or completely skips town without fixing it altogether. The storm chaser is a couple hundred bucks richer and the homeowner is left in the dust with the mess.
Experts suggest there are some things you can do to avoid being blindsided by a scam.
J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman, suggests these tips.
- Do your homework – Research company complaints and concerns with the Better Business Bureau (BBB)
- Sleep on it – There is no such thing as a special price for signing a contract “right now or today”
- Avoid the knock – Qualified and trustworthy handymen Don’t have time to go door-to-door seeking business
- Paper trail – Don’t permit work without a signed and understood contract
You’re not completely on your own when it comes to finding a reputable contractor. Places like Angie’s List and the BBB are available to provide you with information and consumer reviews. There’s also the National Center for the Prevention of Home Improvement Fraud. It’s a free and reputable place to go for home improvement advice and in-depth tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.
It all comes down to being an informed consumer. Remember, knowledge is power!
Stuck on avoiding contractors altogether? Before you get started on your next D-I-Y project be sure to check out Four Ways that DIY’ers Can Avoid Home Renovation Mishaps.
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