Home Repair Rip-Offs
by Nick Gromicko
Homeowners have more to worry about than being ripped off by shady contractors in this lagging economy, but such a climate brings desperation -- and with it, sadly, fraud. Of course, the majority of tradesmen are generally honest professionals, but there is a large number of unscrupulous contractors who will fix items that don’t need fixing, or grossly overcharge you for services or parts. Worse, there are plenty of con artists posing as tradesmen who will simply take your money and run. Inspectors are often the first ones to uncover such fraud, so they too need to be familiar with its common forms in order to best serve their clients.
Some common home repair scams include:
- roof work. Con artists are known to travel from state to state following natural disasters and looking for victims of storms. Beware of people who suddenly arrive in your neighborhood, offering to fix your roof at a discount. Also, don’t trust a roofer who makes an assessment of a leaky roof from the ground without examining it. Very often, the flashing is all that needs to be replaced, even when the tradesman tries to convince you that you need a whole new roof.
- driveway sealers. This time-honored grift has a tradesmen pulling up to your home in his truck and offering to re-seal your driveway using leftover "sealant" from a job "just down the block." The low price is unbelievable, and so is the job. Generally, the sealant is paint or some other cheap, black spray media that will quickly wash away with the next rain.
- termites. Myths that exaggerate the dangers of termites abound, and homeowners can be easily duped into unnecessary treatment. Ask for prices from more than one company and compare their services. Make sure to get a guarantee that covers you in case termites return within a given period of time. Read the guarantee and the rest of the contract carefully before you sign! Be on guard for the following ruses:
- The exterminator shows you termites on a fence or woodpile that is not connected to your house. If he were competent and honest, he would know that these termites pose no threat to your home.
- He (but not you) witnesses “evidence.” Make the exterminator show you the alleged evidence of the infestation. Termite-damaged wood is hollowed out along the grain, with bits of soil or mud lining the galleries.
- He offers a free termite inspection, and his motives are questionable to begin with. He may bring the evidence to your house with him.
- chimney sweeps. Beware of any chimney sweep who arrives at your door unannounced, offering to perform his services for a low price. He might say that he's just worked on your neighbor’s chimney, and offer you a suspiciously low price for a sweep. The inspection will uncover "problems" that quickly balloon the price.
- HVAC specialists. The most common HVAC rip-offs are replacing parts that work fine and substituting used parts for new ones. If you get suspicious, ask to see the alleged broken parts before they're replaced, and look at the packaging and documentation for the new parts before they're installed. If possible, have HVAC work performed in the off-season, as it may be significantly cheaper.
- plumbers. Parts cost plumbers only a tiny fraction of the total charge for their services, but some plumbers will still cut corners to boost their profit. They may use plastic or low-grade metal, for instance, or 1/2-inch pipe instead of 3/4-inch pipe. Ask what they are installing and how long the parts will last.
- painters. Some painters agree to use a specific brand of high-quality paint, then pour cheap paint into name-brand cans. Most of the cans the painter brings with him should be sealed when the job is started. If not, ask why. Other painters skimp on the prep work.
Homeowners should heed the following advice whenever they hire a contractor:
In summary, homeowners and inspectors alike should be wise to the plethora of ways that home repair contractors, or those posing as such, rip off their clients.