Home Improvement Scams - Beware of the Contractor Who Shows Up At Your Door

In addition to email, mail and phone, scammers now just show up at your door. Scammers posing as home improvement contractors come door-to-door sale and target seniors, those who live alone, and victims of weather-related disasters are common targets.

Watch out for these signs of a home improvement scam:

  • The person at your door notices that your roof (or another area on your house that is hard to check) needs repair.
  • Common lines used: "I can give you a great price because I have leftover materials from another job" or "I just happen to be working in the area...
  • He says he just finished work on your neighbor's house and has just enough materials to do repair work on yours. He might say he can give you a better bargain if you let him do the work today since he has the supplies now.
  • The contractor is pressuring you to accept an offer.
  • The contractor has a vehicle with out-of-state license plates.
  • The contractor is overly aggressive and says the work needs to begin immediately.
  • The contractor insists on immediate payment, often in cash.
  • The contractor offers no written contract. All contracts should contain the three-day cooling off period, required by law.
  • He can't or won't supply customer references. If he does - DO call them!
  • His business address and telephone number is a rented mail drop or an answering service.
  • In addition, avoid contractors who exhibit poor communication skills, are impatient and do not listen to you, or situations in which the contractor is not accessible.
  • The company cannot be found in the telephone book, is not listed with the local Better Business Bureau, or with a local trade association, such as NARI.
  • He can't (for ANY reason) show proof of insurance (a certificate of insurance) when requested.

How to Find a Real Contractor

  • Take your time. Don't let the contractor rush your decision.
  • Do research. Know how much you can afford and what you want done.
  • Check your state's the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division for information about the contractor you are considering.
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints about contractors you are considering.
  • Check with services like Angie's List and Yelp to see how others rated their service.
  • Consumers can search www.RemodelToday.com to find a remodeler who is a member of NARI (The National Association of the Remodeling Industry).
  • Talk to your friends who used this contractor. How did they like his work?
  • Stick to local, well-established contractors. Don't assume that having an advertisement or website makes the contractor reliable.
  • Compare bids and services. Be skeptical if the bid is too low. A contractor with a very low price may be inexperienced and unable to finish the work for the amount bid.
  • Get all bids in writing and save it by scanning it to your computer or taking a picture of it with your cell phone. Does the bid specifically list the improvements you discussed? How long will the project take? A detailed, written proposal allows you to shop around.
  • Is the contractor licensed, bonded and insured? Licensing requirements vary from community to community, so check with your city or county building department to determine the licensing requirements for your area and if the contractor you are considering is properly licensed, bonded and insured.

Before You Sign A Contract

Get a written contract. State laws often require that home improvement contracts exceeding a certain dollar amount (like $150) to be in writing. Before signing the contract, make certain it includes:

  • The price of the job
  • The payment schedule
  • A detailed description of the work and materials (including colors, brand names and patterns)
  • The estimated start and completion dates
  • The contractor's name and address
  • A name and telephone number of the person to contact if problems arise
  • The contractor's signature

Important:

  • Never pay for the entire project before the work begins.
  • Do not pay more than 1/3 of the total cost as a down payment. Remaining payments should be tied to completion of specified amounts of work.

After You Sign the Contract

Is a permit needed for your home improvement? Many localities require permits for building projects. Contact your local building department to see if a permit is needed. A contractor should not start work until the permit is issued.

Don't make the final payment to the contractor until you know that all subcontractors and/or suppliers have been paid. Get written proof of payment. Subcontractors and suppliers may file a mechanics lien against your home if they haven't been paid.
Get a copy of the warranty. If a contractor guarantees labor and/or materials, those warranties should be in writing.

Keep all records related to your project. This includes the contract, change orders, warranties, and correspondence. These records are important, particularly if you have a problem with your project.

Even if precautions are taken, problems may arise. Take time to talk to your contractor to resolve these issues. If problems continue, put your complaints in writing and send them to the contractor. Be sure to keep a copy of these complaints for your records.


Common Home Improvement Scams (as reported to the Better Business Bureau)

  • DRIVEWAY SEALANT SCAM: Poor contractors show up on door steps claiming they have left over materials from a previous job and can seal your driveway for a rock-bottom price. After paying for the job upfront, the "contractor" may slather an ineffective substance -- such as crude motor oil -- on your driveway and be on to his next victim.
  • DRIVEWAY REPAIR SCAMS: Fake contractors go thropugh a neighborhood offering very cheap prices to repair driveways. They want to begin work on the spot and usually do not have a contract.
  • GUTTER CLEANING / CHIMNEY SHAKERS: They usually advertise in local newspapers, offering gutter cleaning at a cheap price. Once the routine work is performed, they claim the chimney is in dire need of structural repairs.
    Sometimes, chimney shakers will literally remove bricks and mortar from the chimney; hence, the term "chimney shakers." These materials will then be shown to the homeowner as evidence of the chimney's alleged state of decay. Another common scare tactic used in connection with chimney scams is the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning if the chimney is not repaired immediately. But remember, not all scare tactics are deceitful. When a reputable contractor calls a problem serious and explains his rationale in a clear and logical way, your family's safety may depend on you acting promptly. If you are unsure about a diagnosis, always get a second opinion from a reputable contractor.
  • HOT TAR ROOFING:  Phony contractors send mailings, telemarket, or go door-to-door in this scam, which usually targets businesses. These contractors offer a price that sounds too good to be true and want to do the job immediately. They use substandard materials and perform shoddy workmanship. In many cases, businesses don't realize they've been burned until after heavy rains cause the roof to leak resulting in damage to the office's interior. When the company calls the contractor for repairs, its phone number has been disconnected and he is no where to be found.

And please let us know about any suspicious calls or emails you receive.  We look for patterns so that we can alert the authorities and victims to new scams, before it is too late!


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Resources and Related Scams