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Warning signs of a contractor scam
Sometimes home improvement can be a bit like gambling. If you find a great contractor, you've hit the jackpot. If you fall victim to a contractor scam, you can lose everything. Luckily, when it comes to hiring a contractor, you can avoid losing if you are diligent, and know what to look for.
COMMON CONTRACTOR SCAMS
"That storm damaged your (gutter, roof, siding…) I can fix it right away." They collect as many preliminary payments as possible, as leave town before finishing any projects.
These predators are known as "storm chasers," and common in parts of the country prone to hurricanes or tornados. However, similar con artists materialize after fire, flood, earthquake, or any natural disaster, which has left homeowners a bit paranoid.
"The license is in my business partner's name." Stolen, borrowed, or fabricated contractor's licensed are often presented. Only the person named, legal employees of the licensed individual or company, and properly licensed sub-contractors should be working.
"If you pay this amount now, I can get these materials on sale for half price." Those pressuring for large, upfront payments rarely even begin work. No matter what reason they give, don't make payment before the contract is signed.
"A verbal agreement will hold up in a court of law, we don't need a written contract." Later, the contractor will deny what was promised, even to your face.
The legalities of verbal agreements are irrelevant. If the contractor lies to authorities, you have no proof of what was promised."I can give you a MUCH better deal than that." When they are offering fantastically low prices, long warranties, or speedy timeline - they usually don't plan on delivering anything.
Your mother warned you about anything that sounds too good to be true. A contractor who values his or her reputation will be quite honest about cost, timeline, and expected results.
HOW TO AVOID THEM
Many scams and con artists are easy to spot. They don't act or sound like they know what they are doing, and disappear as soon as you ask a few questions. Unfortunately, many of these individuals are highly skilled, experienced, and accomplished professionals. Except their profession is trickery, not home improvement.
With excuses and a silver tongue, they can sidestep nearly any question you ask. This practice is your first clue, but if they are good at it you will be so thoroughly sidetracked, you won't even realize what happened.
Before meeting with a potential contractor, make a list of questions, including license number and request for references, so you can verify these. Before the meeting is over, review your list and make sure all questions were answered.
Watch for these telltale signs of a contractor con job:
- Incomplete or verbal quotes
- Resists signing a contract
- Available immediately when contractors are in high demand
- License number not shown on advertisements or paperwork
- Keeps changing estimated deadline
- Requests unreasonable amount of money upfront
- Works odd or short hours
- Can't answer questions about local building code
Your contractor should willingly provide license information, verifiable references, and written bids/contact. He or she should obtain any building permits required. A contractor who does not want to get a permit is probably avoiding the building inspector. This means work and/or materials will be such low quality they won't pass.
If you are asked to obtain the permit, the contractor probably isn't licensed. Most states only allow the legal homeowner, or a licensed contractor, to pull a building permit.
Con artists are smart; you have to be smarter. Be prepared, and watch for suspicious signs - don't be the next victim of a predatory contractor!
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