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Avoiding the Latest Contractor Scams

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ October 29, 2010

Every few months another national website, blog, or home improvement site comes up with suggestions for avoiding consumer scams from unlicensed or unscrupulous contractors. These days, most legitimate contractors are delighted to get work, but there are the exceptions who don't plan on doing much, if anything, except running with your money.

This week, Investopedia writer Michael Sanibel published an article with Yahoo about predators who cheat senior citizens or unwary homeowners. His top list of scam lines include the "I was in your neighborhood on a project and...;" "I'm offering special offers only to homes around here this month...;" and "I can help you get financing for the work."

Contractors Here Today and Gone Tomorrow

A key sign of a scam, Sanibel says, is a contractor who drives up in an unmarked truck without an invitation and insists on coming into the house right away. You should verify a physical address for their business, proof of licensing, and a physical (not cell) number for the business before asking anyone in for an estimate.

Readers Digest reports that one of the bigger scams is conducted by contractors who suddenly claim you need a new roof, ripping the old one off before trying any repair work. Asphalt shingle roofing--installed correctly--can last two decades.

Another contractor ploy is to get you to rip out your old foundation to waterproof a damp basement. Sometimes walls get wet from condensation or poorly aimed sprinkler and faulty drainage systems that can be remedied.

Be very afraid of contractors who want cash down before doing any work. They're here for your money and may be gone tomorrow.

What the Lawyers Say

You can spare yourself a lot of misery by doing your homework before choosing the right contractor. Construction litigators at Lawyers.com warn against contractors who try to enlist you in finding additional customers for money. Avoid anyone who insists that you get your own building permits or who wants to use materials they have left over from another job in your neighborhood.

Building a good relationship with your contractor is a matter of examining their licensing and insurance documents and getting everything in writing. You should get warranties for materials and labor, estimated start and completion dates, and a payment schedule that withholds the final payment until you approve completion of the job.

And check all prospective contractor's records with the Better Business Bureau.

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