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Avoiding Contractor Scams

May 25, 2008
You might think you have to live in Florida, California or a state where natural weather disasters or wildfires create a cycle of home rebuilding to be targeted by contractor scams. But in fact, anyone who owns a home is at risk for falling victim to unscrupulous contractors. It only takes one bad experience to sour a homeowner, and this is unfortunate for the majority of contractors who take pride in their work and do a good job. To avoid experiencing what can end up being a home repair nightmare, all you need to do is be aware of some common scams and don't be afraid to ask questions, require references, make the effort to check those references, never sign anything that looks suspicious or without reading thoroughly and never agree to anything in haste. There are a lot of helpful sites out there where you can find more tips, such as http://www.aboutchicagorealestate.com and below are a few of the most common contractor scams to spot and avoid.

In the springtime everything starts to gear up again. Many potential buyers are shopping for a new home and there are real estate agents like the ones listed here http://www.aboutchicagorealestate.com/real-estate-agents/ hosting open houses. New grass, leaves, flower buds, families barbequing and shady contractors cruising the neighborhoods looking for an easy mark. Unfortunately, a sad fact is that older home owners are often targeted the most, but really anyone can be duped by a convincing pitch.

One of the most frequently used lines is that the contractor was in the neighborhood doing work and just happened to drive by and see something wrong with your home. Being the kind-hearted person that he is, he took time off from his busy schedule and wanted to stop and alert you to the problem you have. And even more convenient for you, he and his crew can work you in while they are in the area. Most legitimate builders and contractors do not go door to door like salesmen. Be wary of anyone showing up unscheduled and offering to do work right away with the pitch that they'll cut you a deal because they are already doing a project close by.

The most often used pitch for this scenario is roof repair. Dishonest contractors may tell a homeowner that their roof is in bad shape, not visible to the naked or untrained eye, and by hiring them to replace it now you'll save money in the long run by avoiding water damage from leakage. This is often perpetrated on older residents who cannot keep a watchful on the repair work actually being done. The homeowner will usually end up with substandard roofing materials or shingles that are a lower grade than the ones you originally had on the roof.

Getting your driveway repaved is another common scam. Even if someone two houses down from you just had it done and it looks fantastic, don't assume the guy who shows up at your door offering to do yours is the one who did the other. Most of the time it isn't the same contractor, but another one shadowing the reputable one. This other guy will do a sub par job and you'll be left with cracks in both your bank account and driveway.

Any contractor who approaches you suggesting that with your help they can do repairs for you for free by turning it into your insurance company isn't doing you any favors. What they are doing is making you a partner in crime by having you commit insurance fraud if there isn't any real basis for the claim. And don't think the insurance company won't prosecute, because they will.

Never, ever agree to pay cash, especially up front. You may be tempted by a big discount offered for a cash payment or advance, but those savings and your money will be as gone as the contractor who just left to go get supplies and will supposedly be back tomorrow.

Never sign the deed to your home over to finance repairs. Chances are if you do this, you won't have to worry about repairs because you won't have a home to repair.

Be suspicious of a contractor who claims he has extra or leftover lumber or supplies and can give you a great quote on a project. You should wonder and ask where those materials came from and realize that somebody, even if it wasn't you, paid for those supplies.

Always ask to see identification, especially if a so-called inspector shows up claiming you need work done to meet a code and tries to fine you or make you sign an agreement to have it done. This is not standard procedure and always check with authorities to see if the person actually is who he or she claims to be. You should always ask to see a contractor's license and ask for references, then check those references. Unhappy previous customers or a complete lack of customers is a sure warning sign. And speaking of signs, never sign anything without reading it or having your lawyer check it over.

If you do find yourself in hot tar, shoddy shingles or crummy carpentry, contact your Better Business Bureau or State's Attorney office to file a complaint and seek help. An old builder's rule is measure twice, cut once. Remember to double check everything and always get more than one quote.
About the Author
Paula Cherrist writes real estate related articles for Best Chicago Condos
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