Maryland gets its share of storms every year, from nor’easters to summer thunderstorms to blizzards to even the occasional tropical storm that sideswipes our state. Something rolls through, the wind howls, the hail pounds, and in the aftermath, a contractor might come to your door offering to take a look at your roof, gutters, patio, or another part of your home’s exterior.
Welcome to the world of contractor scams. The storm-chaser is a classic example of a shady contractor looking to profit from your home—without any regard to quality or ethics.
Here’s How the Storm Scam Works
After a storm passes through an area (and many contractors attempting this scam have done their homework by knowing where weather bureaus have identified wind or hail damage), someone will knock on your door and tell you that your home appears damaged or will offer a free inspection (and such an inspection will always find damage…). Storm damage often is covered by insurance, which these unethical contractors will use to their advantage by quoting a price around the amount of your potential claim and then performing shoddy work with substandard materials. They make a profit, while you are left with a roof in no better condition than before the storm—and the contractor—arrived on your block.
Unfortunately, scams such as this are common and give honest home improvement contractors a bad name. Here are some other scams that you should know about and steps you can take to avoid being ripped off:
The Doorbell Rings…
A storm isn’t necessary for a contractor to come to your door soliciting home repair services. Beware of the free inspection after such a visit, because when the roofer climbs atop your house or looks at your plumbing, he may purposely damage your shingles or pipes (or show you damage that actually isn’t damage) to convince you a repair is needed. And be wary of a contractor who comes to your door saying he can work with your insurance policy to make the repair—more than likely, he is trying to rip off your insurer as well. If you ever suspect a problem with something in your home, you should be the one contacting contractors—never the other way around.
Low Bids and Few Details
Some shady contractors will quote you an unusually low bid to get the job, only to pile on “unexpected” expenses later. Then, they might not show up as scheduled or take longer than necessary to finish the job. Insist upon getting everything in writing before you sign a contract. Any roofer who balks at this request shouldn’t be trusted.
The Down-Payment Scam
If your chosen contractor is insisting upon a down payment before any work begins, you definitely want to think twice before finalizing the job. A common reason given for this down payment is to buy materials or pay for labor. Most reputable contractors will start the job, or at least drop off materials (if it’s a roofer, for example), without a down payment. Scammers will take the money and use it for something else, often leaving you waiting for the job to start. Resist the down payment and never hand over your insurance check before work begins.
Unethical contractors want your money, so they may put on the hard sell to get you to commit to hiring them. This is your home, not a used-car negotiation, so if you don’t feel comfortable with the tactics used to get you to sign a contract, walk away or ask the contractor to leave. A high-pressure sales pitch often includes claims and promises the contractor cannot keep just to get you to commit on the spot. The best professionals work with you; if one feels like an adversary during the process, more than likely, he is.
More Repair Than You Need
Something in your home needs repair, a contractor comes out and takes a look, and the recommendation is for an option that feels incredibly expensive. The reason for this high cost: The contractor is attempting to sell you something—whether it’s an enormous AC unit, copper piping, or motion sensors across your entire property—that your home doesn’t really need. Take the AC, for example: A smaller unit may be just as efficient to cool your house at a lower operating cost, but it might not produce the profit the contractor is hoping for. There’s upselling, and then there’s overkill—beware of the contractor who gives you few options that all seem excessive.
Many scammers are banking on you trusting them to work with your insurance company, hoping you don’t have a clue how the claim process will proceed. The shady contractor often will overcharge and then barely follow through on the work, thus leaving your home in barely better shape (at best) than it was before. Your best defense against insurance fraud is to know your homeowner’s policy—what’s covered, what the deductible will be, how claims are filed, how inspections are handled, and so on. The best contractors are adept at working with insurance companies but also include homeowners in the process every step of the way.
Work with Reputable Contractors
Perhaps the best way to avoid being ripped off is simply to do your homework and choose a contractor with impeccable credentials. Online review sites, professional organizations, and old-fashioned word of mouth are excellent sources of information when considering a professional to work on your home. Get multiple bids on a big job—no reputable contractor is going to fault you for wanting a second opinion. Check references and certifications. The scammers are out there waiting to take your money, so do your homework to find a contractor you can trust.
Have you ever had a negative experience with a contractor for any work done in your home?