I’ve had numerous people come to my house offering “great deals” on home repair services over the years.
You know the type. Most of these guys wouldn’t know what a contractor’s license looked like if it hit them in the head.
Even more telling, they are often willing to do any job for whatever amount you are willing to pay, no matter how low your offer.
I’m not kidding. Here is an exchange I had with one of these fly-by-night guys one day last week:
“Good afternoon, sir! I’m with Speedy’s Chimney Sweep Service. When was the last time you had your chimney inspected and swept?”
“Hmmm, that’s a good question,” I said, scratching my chin and looking towards the heavens. “I think it was about 40 years ago.”
“But, sir,” the contractor said, “these homes look like they can’t be much older than 10 years old.”
“Then maybe it was 10 years ago.”
“Right. Anyway, we’re having a chimney inspection special today, complete with top hat and tails, for $99.”
“Sorry,” I quickly replied, refusing to be sucked in to his scam, “but I don’t get paid until a week from next Friday and all I’ve got in my wallet is $26 and a couple of coupons from Wienerschnitzel.”
“I actually think we can make that work, sir! When would you like us to start?”
“How about right now – but only if I get to keep the coupons.”
“I’ll get my top hat.”
Okay, okay. I may have embellished this story just a bit – but you get the point. These guys can be real shysters.
Coincidentally, after I dispatched that guy – no, I didn’t really hire him – I got on the Internet in an effort to learn more about chimney sweeps. In the course of my research I found an article from Reader’s Digest that revealed the five biggest home repair ripoffs, including how they work and what you can do to protect yourself.
Guess what ripoff was on the list? Yep.
Here is a brief summary of all five…
The Chimney Sweep Swindle
The Rip-off: In this typical bait and switch plan, the dirty chimney sweep will cold-call you, offering an inspection for a relatively low-price. After the inspection is complete the chimney sweep may claim to find major problems, such as a new chimney liner, costing thousands of dollars.
The Reality: Experts recommend an annual inspection to check for creosote buildup and the structural soundness of the chimney. A quick review of chimney sweep prices on the Internet show inspections and most cleanings can be had for $250 or less. Major repairs are rare – and local fire departments often will inspect your chimney for free.
The Rip-off: Scammers taking advantage of the public’s fear of mold’s adverse health effects will offer to run expensive tests costing as much as $600 to identify your mold. Then they recommend a remediation company they’re in cahoots with for removing the mold.
The Reality: Unless you are immunosuppressed, or have allergies or asthma, mold isn’t dangerous. The Center for Disease Control doesn’t even recommend testing mold, because if it’s a problem to the occupants, it should be removed no matter what kind it is. You can clean small areas yourself just as good as any remediation company. For nonporous surfaces simply use soap and water, followed by a solution of one cup bleach mixed with one gallon water.
Leaky Roof Wrangling
The Rip-off: A con artist will say water is seeping through the shingles and you need to tear off all the old layers and build a new roof when it actually isn’t – a job that can run upwards of $5000. Even worse, he may say you’ll need an entirely new deck, which is the wood base beneath the shingles, for several thousand dollars more.
The Reality: A roof leak can be often be repaired by simply replacing the sealing or flashing for a fraction of the cost. As for getting a new deck: Reader’s Digest notes that they are required only once in every 1000 roof repairs.
The Termite Trap
The Rip-off: Unscrupulous termite control guys will convince unwitting homeowners to sign on the dotted line when the home isn’t actually infested.
The Reality: Be wary of exterminators showing you termites on wood piles or fences unconnected to your house: This may be a scam. If an exterminator claims you have termites, he should show you the evidence. You have a problem only if there’s evidence of termites inside the house or close to the foundation.
The Basement Boondoggle
The Rip-off: To repair a chronically-wet basement, shady contractors will offer to dig out your entire foundation and waterproof it for anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000, when most of the time the solution is much simpler and cheaper.
The Reality: Many basement leaks are caused by overflow from clogged gutters, misrouted downspouts, unsloped land around the house or even improperly aimed lawn sprinklers, so before calling in professional help, try to reduce the moisture along the foundation. Humidity can be another culprit. Before undertaking any major work, you should get the advice of a professional engineer or a certified home inspector.
In general, to minimize your risk of being ripped off by scam artists always get opinions from multiple contractors. Finally, keep in mind that contractors who are willing to do jobs for significantly less than their competition or are too eager to do the job at any price are most likely going to cut corners – or worse – which will end up costing you even more money in the long term, so be wary.