Home construction © Corbis

The Basics

Sleazy home improvement scams

Spring's the time homeowners get to work -- and shady contractors come of out of the woodwork. Here's how to smell a suspicious deal.

By Bankrate.com

Like most homeowners, you probably spent the winter months talking about the home improvements you'd like to make. Now that spring is here, it's time to act on those remodeling impulses. After all, spring is a time of renewal, change and new beginnings.

Unfortunately, it's also a time when shady contractors come out of the woodwork to prey on innocent homeowners. "Some are actual scam artists, while others are just incompetent or unethical," says Ellis Levinson, a consumer reporter and the author of the book "Hiring Contractors Without Going Through Hell."

The good news is that you can protect yourself against these scams. In fact, many scams are easy to detect if you take the time to become an educated, savvy consumer. "Compare prices, call references and research the project you're undertaking in advance," says Bruce Johnson, the author of "50 Simple Ways to Save your House." It seems simple, but many people find this process overwhelming.

Levinson calls it emotional laziness. "It's amazing to me how much time people will put it into buying a TV because it's fun. But when it comes to remodeling a kitchen, people have no time. They see it as drudgery," Levinson says. Ultimately, he says, doing the research to protect yourself is much easier than paying for the consequences.

To help you differentiate a scam from the real deal, Bankrate has compiled a list of the most common remodeling scams. Beware of the following key phrases, and remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

'I just happen to be working in your neighborhood'

This happens when contractors appear at your home unsolicited to inform you that they noticed some problems with your home's (insert: chimney, driveway, windows, plumbing, etc.) while working on a neighboring home. For example, a contractor might say he or she was on the roof of your neighbor's home and noticed missing shingles on your roof. This may be the case, but often no repair is needed.

More important, legitimate, established and reputable contractors tend to find enough work through word-of-mouth referrals that they don't need to be going door to door to attract customers. Be especially skeptical if the contractor drives a vehicle with no company name, no phone number or with out-of-state license plates. "Do not let these people enter your home," Johnson warns. "Often they want to be invited inside to see if something is worth stealing."

Also, be sure to ask for proof that he or she is insured, licensed and bonded. "Homeowners that check out contractors beforehand and research their credibility are usually more satisfied with the job than if they abruptly chose a contractor," says Jeremy Zidek, communications coordinator for the Better Business Bureau in Alaska.

'I have materials left over'

Sometimes contractors will offer a discount for the job under the pretense that they have extra materials and want to use up their supply. Good contractors order just enough supplies to meet the needs of each job, as often the price for supplies is included in the contract.

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. Or he didn't have a previous job but has materials to make it look like he did.

'I need cash upfront'

This contractor will 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 a messy work site. Don't ever pay in full for a project before any work has been done.

However, you may be expected to pay a down payment. "The contractor may not want to block out time in his busy schedule without some money upfront," Levinson says. He recommends creating a payment schedule with the contractor at the start -- wherein you pay a sizable portion only upon completion of a project. Johnson swears by the one-third theory.

 1 | 2 | next >

Rate this Article

Click on one of the stars below to rate this article from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). LowHigh