Could your status as a homeowner make you vulnerable to scams? According to Experian, the answer may be yes — especially if you aren’t familiar with home repair and renovation scams. America’s third-largest credit bureau reports that nearly 350 homeowners were scammed out of approximately $600,000 by unscrupulous or fake contractors in 2017 alone. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe.
Homeowners beware: shady contractors may be trying to pull the wool over your eyes to make a quick buck. They’ll inspect your home and try to convince you the situation is dire, but is that always the truth? From costly, unnecessary termite treatments to offering large-scale repairs and renovations using leftover materials, we’re pulling back the cover on this clandestine underground industry.
Homeowners, Beware: You Could be at Risk for Scams. Here’s Why:
Unrequired Termite Treatments
In June of 2018, the Imundi family decided to purchase a house in Gilbert, Arizona. During a routine inspection from a local termite repair company, the Imundis were told the house was infested with termites — all because of a tiny mark on the garage wall.
Two successive contracting companies came out for a second and third opinion. Both companies ruled the house clear and said the mark on the wall was completely unrelated to pest infestation.
It was a scam.
Real estate agents — including Pam Goodman, agent for the Imundis — say that they see termite repair scams all the time. She suggests getting another opinion before you lock yourself into any high-value payouts. As for red flags, be cautious of anyone who claims “doom and gloom,” yet produces few actual warning signs inside the house.
Overextended Roof Repairs
Your roof is one of the most important parts of your home. If it leaks or breaks, you’re essentially exposed to a whole host of other issues at the same time. That’s exactly why roofing scammers succeed in convincing so many homeowners that they need total roof replacement instead of more affordable repairs.
This is another scam that comes down to a lack of literacy in home repairs. A roofing company who seems to be professional may tell you anything; unless you know what to look for, you can’t know whether they’re telling the truth. Something as simple as reflashing or shingle replacement could turn into a $10,000+ bill.
But let’s get down to what matters most: how can you avoid it? Get at least three professional opinions before you commit. Be especially cautious of roofers who just “show up” and offer a free estimate on the spot. Real roofers rarely have enough time to go door-to-door.
The precious few days and weeks after a flood are extremely stressful for homeowners. Coming to terms with loss, repair needs, waterlogged basements, ruined carpets, and more can put you in an extremely vulnerable position. According to the Better Business Bureau, that’s almost exactly when flood scammers like to step in.
Flood scammers operate by taking advantage of your vulnerability. They’ll step in, tell you your entire foundation needs to be re-dug and replaced as a result of the flooding, and then present you with a $20,000+ bill. This is an issue because basements don’t always require extensive repairs or replacement, especially after flash flooding.
To avoid being scammed, be cautious about who you hire after a disaster. If the deal seems too good to be true, there’s a reason it. If they push you into paying for the entire service upfront, that’s an even bigger red flag. Get at least three opinions before you fully agree to anything. Then, read the fine print carefully.
Expensive Mold Testing or Removal
A real mold infestation is no joke. It can make you, your loved ones, and your pets really sick. But unless you have a good reason to suspect you have a mold problem, testing is more of an expensive “option” than a necessity. But scammers do take advantage of the the rational fear of mold fairly often. And they usually follow it up with an offer to “affordably” remove the mold with extensive repairs.
News stations reported on this back in 2013, highlighting that while mold is a serious issue, companies who test and fix put homeowners at a serious disadvantage. They can essentially claim just about any finding, writing up a bill to the tune of $3,000 or more for what might really be a simple, fast $500 fixit job.
The Golden Rule? Don’t have your home tested by the same company who fixes a problem — if one even exists. And don’t be afraid to seek out multiple quotes before you agree to any one.
The “Leftover Materials” Scam
This one’s a little less common than the others, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t as important. Contractors cruise around neighborhoods offering to “help” homeowners for a reduced rate because they have “leftover materials” from another project. They sell off materials, you get a reduced rate, everyone wins — except, not really.
In a lot of cases, the “job” they do will look fine — at least, at first. It’s only after a few days or weeks have passed by that you start seeing problems. Paint begins to peel, your driveway begins to crack, or wood begins to collect moisture and display leaks. By that time, they’re long gone.
The issue? “Leftover” is often code word for “low quality,” which could really mean damaged materials, mold-infested wood, rusted metals, separated paint, or even expired hot-top asphalt and concrete.
Avoiding this scam is simple: just don’t agree to use low-quality materials. It isn’t worth the potential fallout afterward. Contractors should always buy materials specifically for your project or at least have them in stock regularly. “Leftovers,” is a major red flag.
Keeping yourself safe in a world where home repair scams are so common isn’t always easy, but is possible. Above all else, remember that if it seems too good to be true, or too extreme, it probably is. The extra costs associated with getting a second opinion just might save you from breaking the bank on unnecessary, low-quality fixes or future repairs that could have been avoided, later on.