Your home is your castle, your safe space. Before you let anyone fix it, you want to know they are reliable and trustworthy. But there are schemers and scammers looking to take advantage of homeowners.
Home improvement and repair projects can become a nightmare if you fall victim to a scam. Imagine that your home has been damaged by a hurricane or other natural disaster. You have to move fast to plan repairs and pursue homeowners insurance claims. Don’t let the stress and emotion of a damaged home lead you to make bad decisions. During these times, home repair fraud, including price gouging, pressure to make unnecessary repairs and outright theft can run rampant.
Schemers target the most vulnerable homeowners they can find, including seniors, low-income families and homeowners whose homes were recently damaged. Some may pressure homeowners to make quick decisions and sign contracts without reading and understanding them. But there are ways to avoid being victimized.
Before you commit to any kind of home repairs, remodels or upgrades, make sure you know how to protect yourself from the scammers.
Here are some tips that can help you avoid home repair fraud:
- Home repair scammers often target people with door-to-door campaigns and telephone calls, offering services at purported “discounts” and pressuring homeowners to make immediate decisions. Never fall for phone or door-to-door offers of free estimates, home inspections or “special deals” of any kind. Very few, if any, legitimate contractors do this, especially after a storm. If somebody tells you that you have to “sign up today” in order to get a good deal, don’t do it. Legitimate contractors will give you a chance to think about what you want to do and to review anything they want you to sign.
- Beware of people who tell you they are offering their services on behalf of any state or local government program. “I’m here to help you take advantage of a great program offered by the State of Florida!!” or “I work for your town and am here to offer you a fantastic deal!!” If this happens to you, ask the person for the specific name of the government program they are talking about and ask them for something in writing identifying the government entity offering the program. If they don’t have answers, don’t do business with them. And even if they do give you answers, call that governmental entity and confirm that such a program exists and you are eligible for it.
- Never sign a contract without reading every single word, especially the “fine print.” And if you don’t understand what you are reading, don’t sign it without consulting with an attorney.
- Beware of contracts that require large up-front deposits, even if you are told the deposit is fully refundable. Never sign a contract that does not require the work to be done within a set amount of time. If the contract permits the contractor to complete the work at any time, without a deadline, this is a huge “red flag.” Also make sure the contract is itemized and identifies the cost of each item that is being repaired or replaced.
- Always ask if a contractor is “bonded, licensed and insured” and ask for a copy of the contractor’s license and proof of insurance. Never hire unlicensed contractors or contractors who are not bonded and insured.
- Do your research before hiring, don’t just rely on referrals. Start with the Better Business Bureau and Yelp, or if you aren’t savvy with the internet, ask a trusted friend to help. Do a Google search for the contractor’s name followed by a phrase like “rip-off” or “scam.” If there are a lot of negative reviews, or not reviews at all, do not hire them.
- Take photos of the damage from various angles. Make sure you understand what damages are covered by your homeowners policy and what damages are not. Most importantly, if your home is damaged and needs to be repaired, review your homeowners policy and call your homeowners insurer to make a claim. If you don’t understand the terms of your homeowners policy, consult with an attorney.
- Know the differences between licenses. An occupational license is not a construction license, it is a business registration only. You can always call your local building department for help.
- NEVER pay cash; a check, credit card receipt or money order provides a written record. Never pay for incomplete work or jobs that have not been inspected and approved by your local municipal building inspector. If a contractor wants money in advance, you should consider paying the material suppliers directly. Keep copies of all paperwork and records of all phone calls, conversations and activities. A contractor will ask for a down payment to secure the work, but don’t pay more than 33% of the job. If you give away too much money at the start of a job, you may never see it or the contractor again.
- Ask for references of past work. Don’t just rely on friends and family, find their former customers.
- Never allow a contractor or somebody you do not know and trust take you to the bank to withdraw money for any reason.
- If you suspect your contractor is doing something wrong, consult with an attorney and consider reporting it to the authorities immediately.
If you are having trouble navigating the home repair process. contact us. Or if you feel you have been ripped off, let us know. We want to help.
The attorneys at George Gesten McDonald, PLLC have decades of experience successfully litigating real estate matters, consumer protection and fraud class action claims against some of the largest and most powerful companies in the nation. Contact us at https://www.4-justice.com/contact/ for more information.