How to Avoid Home Improvement Scams

As spring approaches, many homeowners think about making home improvements. Unfortunately, it's also a time when crooked contractors come out to prey on innocent homeowners. The good news is you can protect yourself against these scams. You should get quotes, compare prices, and call references.

Sometimes you will hear the phrase, “I just happen to be working in your neighborhood.” You'll hear this when contractors appear at your home unsolicited to inform you they noticed some problems with your home while working on a neighboring house. Be especially skeptical if the contractor drives a vehicle with no company name, no phone number or with out-of-state license plates. Never let these people enter your home. They may be looking to see if there is something worth stealing. Also, be sure to ask for proof that he or she is insured, licensed and bonded.

Sometimes contractors will offer a discount for a job under the pretense that they have extra materials left from another job and want to use up their supply. The truth is that good contractors order enough supplies to meet the needs of each job. If a contractor has materials left over from a previous job and is making them available to you, he either didn't finish the job or is cheating the previous customer. Alternatively, he may have never had a previous job but has materials to make it look like he did.  

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Be wary if a contractor asks for cash up front. This contractor may take your money and disappear before or (even worse) after your project gets under way. It can be frustrating trying to chase after him, getting him to come back and finish the job, or hiring someone else to clean up the mess. Don't ever pay in full for a project before any work has been done. Some contractors may ask for a down payment. Working out a payment schedule with a contractor is always a good idea. Try giving one-third up front, another third when half of the project is completed and the final third when the job is done.

If a contractor is offering a "special deal," ask him or her to legitimize what they are offering. While this is a common sales technique, you can ask them for documentation of this bargain—a flyer, for example, that the contractor has mailed or delivered in the past. Don’t be pressured to make a hasty decision about a remodeling project.

Sometimes a contractor will suggest you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows. This could indicate a home improvement loan scam, as the contractor may be getting kickbacks from the lender. Never finance through your contractor without shopping around and comparing loan terms.

Beware if a contractor tells you they would like to use your home as a "show home" to advertise their services in return for a hefty discount. Established contractors should have completed enough previous projects that they won't need your job as a demonstration.

While any part of your home could be a target, many scams tend to center around driveways, roofs, chimneys and furnaces. If a contractor offers to seal your driveway for a heavily discounted price, find out what materials will be used as sealant. Cheap, inferior substances may look great initially but will wear off in three months. 

Chimney repair scam artists often lure their victims via advertisements in local newspapers offering gutter cleaning at a cheap price. Once the work is performed, they claim the chimney is in dire need of structural repairs. To provide so-called evidence of this, they will make it look like the chimney is in a state of decay by removing bricks and mortar from the chimney. Another chimney scam is when a contractor says there's a threat of carbon monoxide poisoning if the chimney is not repaired immediately. This is a serious concern; so if you are unsure about whether to trust this person, get a second opinion from a reputable contractor. 

Tar roofing contractors send mailings, telemarket, or go door to door, offering a price that sounds too good to be true and will want to do the job immediately. They often use substandard materials. You may not realize you've been duped until heavy rains cause the roof to leak, resulting in damage to the building's interior. Sometimes you can't determine the quality of the job until after it has been completed. If you're having a big job done, make sure that your contract has a holdback clause where you withhold the final payment until 30 days after completion of a project to ensure your satisfaction.

If a contractor inspects your furnace, they may claim it is leaking dangerous gases or is about to explode. Ask your utility company to come inspect your system. Also, be wary if a contractor tells you the unit is too small or needs a complete overhaul. When choosing a contractor, always get several estimates on the needed repair.

In very unusual circumstances, ducts must be cleaned. The scheme is called a "blow and go" because the scam artist will use a small vacuum cleaner with no special filters to stir up the dust, pollen, mold and other contaminants instead of removing them. Duct cleaning can be necessary if there is mold in the house or if the heating or air conditioning has been running with inadequate or nonexistent filtering. If you change filters regularly, your ducts don't need to be cleaned.

If you think that you may have been the victim of a scam, call the Livingston Police Department at (973) 992-3000.

In this area, the police department will post information about upcoming events and new programs, as well as articles regarding the safety and well-being of our residents.


The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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