By Attorney General Roy Cooper
Spring and summer are peak times for home repairs and renovations. Unfortunately this is also when homeowners are most likely to fall victim to home repair scams.
Home repair fraudsters promise quality work at a fair price, but instead do shoddy, unnecessary work on your home, if they do any work at all. In addition to wasting your money, some victims pay a price emotionally–especially seniors, who are the most frequent targets of these frauds.
Fortunately, a recent court ruling could make it easier to prosecute cases of home repair fraud. After his conviction, a home repair scammer challenged the use of testimony by other seniors he ripped off in Orange County. The North Carolina Court of Appeals rejected his argument and upheld his conviction, which may help in future cases of fraud against seniors.
To avoid home repair scams, remember:
Just Say No
A simple knock on the door can remind some seniors of being victimized. That’s because many scammers find their victims this way. If someone knocks offering to repave your driveway with leftover asphalt, repair a chimney they claim is about to fall down, or fix some other problem they say they’ve observed, just say no. Be highly skeptical of anyone who makes an unsolicited offer, or leaves a flyer on your door or mailbox. Remember, legitimate service providers don’t usually go door-to-door.
Do your homework
If you need work done on your home, shop around to find the right company or individual for the job. Get recommendations from friends or family members. Websites that allow homeowners to post reviews can also be helpful, but remember that glowing reviews are often posted by the scammers themselves. Sites that only allow paid members to post are more reliable, but even these should be used in conjunction with recommendations from other sources. Also, be aware that shoddy contractors frequently change company names when complaints and lawsuits start to catch up with them.
Get estimates, then compare
Spoken agreements are usually worthless. Once you’ve narrowed your list of potential candidates to hire, ask them to submit written offers. It’s best to get three written offers to review and then make your choice.
You’ve picked a company from your list, now check their references carefully. If possible, see some of their completed work. Get the name of their insurance carrier and contact the company to make sure their policy is up-to-date, especially if you are having roofing, painting or tree removal work done. Call my office at-1-877-5-NO-SCAM and your local Better Business Bureau to see if the company has a history of complaints.
Many fields have professional boards where you can check to make sure the person is licensed to do the work you need done. For General Contractors, visit www.nclbgc.org or call (919) 571-4138; for Electricians, visit www.ncbeec.org or call (919) 733-9042; and for Plumbers or HVAC Contractors, visit www.nclicensing.org or call (919) 875-3612.
Get it in writing
Your written contract should include in clear language the work to be done, when the job starts, and approximately how long it will take. The contract should also state the total cost of the job, the quality of the materials to be used, and who is responsible for cleaning up when the job is done.
Know your rights
After a salesman drives away with a signed contract, consumers sometimes have second thoughts. Under North Carolina law, you get three business days to cancel any contract that is signed in your home. The three day period begins the day you sign and the salesman is required to inform you of this right. If you want to cancel, review the cancellation language in your contract, and notify the seller in writing before your time is up.
Don’t pay upfront
After you’ve signed a contract you may have to make a reasonable down payment, but never pay for the whole job in advance. See if you can make payments as phases of the job are completed. Don’t make the final payment until you are satisfied with the work.
For more consumer tips, visit www.ncdoj.gov or call the Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.