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Home Improvement Scams: Don't Get Nailed!

ID

2809-7004

Authors as Published

Andrew Ramsey, Consumer Studies Major in the Department of AHRM, Virginia Tech; and Dr. Celia Ray Hayhoe, CFP®, Resource Management Specialist, Virginia Tech

Home Improvement scam artists often show up at your front door. This scam is happening more and more. Seniors, those living alone, and victims of weather-related disasters are among those most commonly targeted.

When you should be skeptical:

  • The person at your door notices the roof of your home (or another area that is hard to see) needs repair.
  • The person may also try to trick you into signing a contract without disclosing all of the charges.
  • The person says he just finished work in your neighborhood and has just enough materials left to repair your home. He may offer a better “bargain” if you let him do the work that day since he has the supplies on him.
  • The person is pressuring you to accept an offer or states the offer is only good today.
  • You signed a contract, some of the work has been completed, and you have made some payments, but the person is nowhere to be found.

Deciding on the right contractor:

  • Take your time. Don’t let the contractor pressure you into a decision you aren’t ready to make. Ask for a contact list of the contractor’s previous clients.
  • Ask your friends, neighbors, and family for the name of a contractor they used. Did they like their work?
  • Do your research. Know what you can afford and what you want done.
  • Contact the Virginia Attorney General about consumer protection at (804) 786-2071 or visit the website at http://www.oag.state.va.us
  • Contact the Virginia The Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation at http://www.dpor.virginia.gov/ This site can help make the decision to eliminate or accept a potential contractor.
  • You can also contact the Better Business Bureau to check for complaints on a worker or business. Their website is: http://www.bbb.org/online, or you can write to 4200 Wilson Blvd. Suite 800, Arlington, VA 22203
  • Is the contractor licensed, bonded, insured? Check with your city or county building department to determine the licensing requirements and if the person is properly licensed, bonded, and insured.
  • Opt for well established contractor. Don’t assume an ad makes a person reliable.
  • Compare bids and services, and be skeptical if a bid is too low. A contractor may provide a cheap quote and later claim that more money is needed to finish the job.
  • Get a bid in writing. How long will the project take? Are all the terms you discussed there? Are there terms present that you didn’t discuss?

Before Signing a Contract:

  • Is there a permit needed for your home improvement? Contact your local building department to see if one is needed, and do NOT allow a contractor to begin work before one is obtained.
  • Never pay for the entire project before the work begins. Do not pay more than 1/3 of the total cost as a down payment. Remaining payments should be tied to completion of specific amounts of work.
  • Get a written contract and be sure that it includes:
    • The price of the job
    • A payment schedule
    • Estimated start and completion dates
    • A name and telephone number of the person to contact if problems arise
    • A detailed description of the work and materials (colors, brand names, patterns)
    • The contractor’s name and address
    • The contractor’s signature and date, your signature and date when you agree to its terms

After Signing the Contract:

  • Get a copy of the warranty. If a contractor guarantees labor and/or materials, this should be in writing.
  • Keep any and ALL records related to the project. These are vital if a problem should arise with the contractor.
  • Do a final walk though of the project with the contractor comparing your contract with what was completed – before signing over the final payment.

More Information and who to contact if there is a problem

  • Contact the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs at 1-800-552-9963 or visit their website at http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov
  • The National Association of the Remodeling Industry website provides and informational brochure at: http://www.nari.org/homeowners/tips/scams.asp
  • More information on home improvement fraud can also be located at http://www.scamshield.com under scam alerts on the right side of the page. The section is titled “Home Improvement and Home Repair Frauds”.
  • The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) provides a printable brochure on home improvement scams. It can be found at http://www.aarp.org under the “fraud” section of Policy and Research
  • Check out contractor’s licensing and complaint history with the Virginia Board for Contractors (804-367- 8511) and the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs (804-786-2042) or (800-552-9963 if calling from outside the Richmond Area).
  • You can also contact the Department of Professional & Occupational Regulation - the agency responsible for investigating fraud/claims against a variety of professions
    • Elder Abuse Hotline (804) 367-2178
    • Complaint Form: www.dpor.virginia.gov
    • Free Educational Brochures

Rights


Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Publisher

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.

Date

May 1, 2009


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