Home Improvement Scams...

 

6 sleazy home improvement scams

 

It's time for less talk and more action.

Like most homeowners, you probably spent the winter months talking about the various home improvements you'd like to make. Now that spring is here, it's time to act on those remodeling impulses. After all, spring is a time of renewal, change and new beginnings.

Unfortunately, it's also a time when crooked contractors come out of the woodwork to prey on innocent homeowners. "Some are actual scam artists, while others are just incompetent or unethical," says Ellis Levinson, a consumer reporter and author of the book "Hiring Contractors Without Going Through Hell."

The good news is you can protect yourself against these scams. In fact, many scams are easy to detect if you take the time to become an educated, savvy consumer. "Compare prices, call references, and research the project you're undertaking in advance," says Bruce Johnson, author of "50 Simple Ways to Save your House." It seems simple but many people find this process overwhelming.

Levinson calls it emotional laziness. "It's amazing to me how much time people will put into buying a TV because it's fun. But when it comes to remodeling a kitchen, people have no time. They see it as drudgery," Levinson says. Ultimately, he says, doing the research to protect yourself is much easier than paying for the consequences.

To help you differentiate a scam from the real deal, Bankrate has compiled a list of the most common remodeling scams. Beware of the following key phrases, and remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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Key phrases to beware of:

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"I just happen to be working in your neighborhood."

"I have materials left over from another job."

"I need the cash up front."

"I have a special offer that's good for today only."

"I can help you finance the project."

"I want to use your home as a model."

Still more scams

While any part of your home could be a target, many scams tend to center around driveways, roofs, chimneys and furnaces.

Driveway Sealant Scam: If a contractor offers to seal your driveway for a heavily discounted price, find out what materials will be used as sealant. Cheap, inferior substances may look great initially but will wear off in three months.

Chimney Repair: These scam artists often lure their victims via advertisements in local newspapers offering gutter cleaning at a cheap price. Once the work is performed, they claim the chimney is in dire need of structural repairs. To provide so-called evidence of this, they will make it look like the chimney is in a state of decay by removing bricks and mortar from the chimney. Note: There might be decay if you burn a lot of wood and don't get your chimneys inspected every year. Another chimney scam is when a contractor says there's a threat of carbon monoxide poisoning if the chimney is not repaired immediately. This is a serious concern, so if you are unsure about whether to trust this person, get a second opinion from a reputable contractor.

Hot Tar Roofing: Contractors send mailings, telemarket, or go door to door in this scam, offering a price that sounds too good to be true and want to do the job immediately. They often use substandard materials. You may not realize you've been duped until heavy rains cause the roof to leak, resulting in damage to the building's interior. Sometimes you can't determine the quality of the job until after it has been completed. "If you're having major work done, ensure that your contract has a hold-back clause where you withhold the final payment until 30 days after completion of a project," Levinson says.

Furnace repair: Once they inspect your furnace, they may claim it is leaking dangerous gases or is about to explode. Ask your utility company to come inspect your system. Also, be wary if a contractor tells you the unit is too small or needs a complete overhaul. When choosing a contractor, always get several estimates on the needed repair.

Duct Cleaning: In very unusual circumstances ducts must be cleaned. The scheme is called a "blow and go" because the scam artist will use a small vacuum cleaner with no special filters to stir up the dust, pollen, mold and other contaminants instead of removing them. Duct cleaning can be necessary if there is mold in the house or if the heating or air conditioning has been running with inadequate or nonexistent filtering. If you change filters regularly, your ducts don't need to be cleaned.