Home | Protecting Consumers | Safeguarding Children | Seniors | Law Enforcement | Site Map | Search
 

Consumer Publications List

Home Repair Scams

A man knocked on the door of an elderly Severna Park homeowner and offered to re-seal his driveway, as he had three years earlier for $350. He said that for a repeat customer he would only charge half-price. The homeowner asked how much that would be and the man said he couldn't tell until he saw how much material it took. When the job was done, the man demanded $1,400. The homeowner was stunned but felt he had to pay. After talking with his daughter, he called his bank to stop payment on the check, but it had already been cashed. The homeowner did not have the man's address or company name.

Home repair and improvement scams are among the most common consumer complaints. Consumers complain about shoddy workmanship, "fly-by-night" contractors who take payments and don't show up to do the work, and companies that pressure homeowners into expensive, unneeded repairs. You can avoid becoming a victim by taking important precautions before having home repairs done.

picture of roofing tar bucketBeware of roving con artists. These scam artists knock on people's doors and offer to do work such as roofing, gutter cleaning, driveway paving or tree pruning. They sometimes appear in the aftermath of hailstorms or tornados, offering to repair storm damage.

Warning signs of a scam:

  • an offer of a reduced price because they've "just done a job nearby and have materials left over"
  • an offer of a "special" percentage off the repair without being clear about what the bottom-line price will be
  • no street address or telephone number, just a post office box or an answering service
  • a refusal to give a written estimate or contract.

Don't hire contractors who come to your door unsolicited, even if they seem honest and helpful. These con artists may take your money and disappear before finishing the job, or sometimes before even starting the work, and are probably not licensed. If something goes wrong, you would have no way to track them down. Also, admitting strangers to your home puts you at risk of being robbed.

Deal only with licensed contractors. When you need work done to your home, choose a contractor carefully.

  • Get recommendations for contractors from satisfied friends and neighbors.
  • Ask to see the worker's Home Improvement Commission license, and check the license number and expiration date. Call the Home Improvement Commission (410-230-6309) to verify a contractor's license and to ask about complaints filed against a company. Why? If a contractor you hire fails to do the job, or does it poorly, you may be able to recover your losses through the Home Improvement Commission's Guaranty Fund if your contractor is licensed.
  • Also call the Consumer Protection Division (410-528-8662) to ask about any complaints filed against the company.
  • Insist on references from a contractor and check them to see if the work was done properly, on schedule, and within the contract price.
  • Get estimates from at least two or three companies, especially for expensive repairs.

Don't pay for unnecessary repairs. A Baltimore-area woman called a plumbing company after noticing water leaking through her living room ceiling. The plumber said all her bathroom pipes were broken. The job would require removing the floor, repiping, and replacing the floor - at a cost of about $1500. The situation was serious, he warned, because the ceiling could collapse, causing an electrical fire if the repairs weren't done. The alarmed consumer spent the night on the couch so she could keep an eye on the ceiling. The next day she sought a second opinion. The second plumber found that the woman's children had splashed too much water in the bathtub that night. Only some caulking was needed.

If a contractor says a problem will be expensive to fix, get at least a second opinion on the diagnosis, and find out exactly what work the project requires. Shop around for a contractor, getting price estimates from several. When requesting an estimate, ask if there is a charge for it.

Beware of salespersons using scare tactics and threats, such as, "Your furnace will blow up if it's not repaired quickly," or "Your water is unsafe to drink."

Insist on a complete written contract. The contract should include: the contractor's name, address and telephone number, a description of work done, materials used, labor cost, timetable, payment schedule, completion date, names of subcontractors, warranty agreements, clean up and financing arrangements. Find out beforehand if the contractor charges by the job or by the day.

Know your right to cancel. Because most home improvement contracts are signed in the home, you are protected by the Door-to-Door Sales Act, which gives you three business days to cancel the contract (the contract should advise you of this right.) However, it's always best not to sign a contract until you've considered all your options and are sure about your decision. Beware of any contractor who asks you to waive your right to cancel within three days.

Don't pay more than one-third of the total contract price in advance. In Maryland, it's against the law for a contractor to accept more than one-third in advance. Before making your last payment, live with the improvement for a few days. Don't sign a certificate of completion or release final payment until you have proof the subcontractors have been paid and all the work in the contract is completed to your satisfaction.

Be cautious of home repair/improvement financing offers. If a contractor offers to arrange financing for your home repair project, shop around for financing yourself. Your own bank or a regular lender may offer better terms. Also, some shady contractors may get you to sign loan papers that are actually for a mortgage against your home. Or, the loan money may be paid directly to the contractor even before the work is done, so the contractor could take the money and disappear before finishing the job.

May/June 2003

Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
Consumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free

 
 

Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
Home | Site Map | Privacy Policy | Contact Us