Use caution when hiring a home improvement contractor, especially after a major storm, flood or other weather event, when many homeowners are trying to repair their homes.
However, contractor scams can happen any time, so be wary of high-pressure sales tactics, up-front fees and fly-by-night businesses. Con artists will take homeowners’ money and deliver (or not deliver) less than quality work.
How the scam works
Home improvement scams can start with a knock on the door, a flyer or an ad. The contractor may offer a low price or a short time frame. One common hook is when the scammer claims to be working in your neighborhood on another project and has leftover supplies.
Once started, a rogue contractor may “find” issues that significantly raise the price. If you object, they threaten to walk away and leave a half-finished project. Or they might accept your upfront deposit and then never return to do the job. Following a natural disaster, scammers persuade homeowners to sign over their insurance payment.
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Tips to spot this scam
- Watch out for “red flags”: Say no to cash-only deals, high-pressure sales tactics, high upfront payments, handshake deals without a contract and onsite inspections. Not all “storm chasers” are con artists, but enough are that you should be cautious any time a home contractor contacts you first, especially after a natural disaster.
- Ask for references and check them out: Bad contractors will be reluctant to share this information, and scammers won’t wait for you to do your homework. If you can, get references from past customers, both older references to check on the quality of the work and newer references to make sure current employees are up to the task. Check them out at BBB.org to see what other customers have experienced. And always be sure to get a written contract with the price, materials and timeline. The more detail, the better.
- Know the law: Work with local businesses that have proper identification, licensing and insurance. Confirm that your vendor will get related permits and make sure you know who is responsible for what according to your local laws and that your vendor is ready to comply.