It’s frightening to think the contractors you pay to work on your home may not always have your best interests at heart. While most pros take their duty of good work seriously, there are still those who seek to take advantage of people’s trust. Fear not, though; there is a solution for every underhanded scheme. And in all cases, the best solution is to stop the fraud before it starts.
Here’s a rundown of some of the most common scams and the best way to avoid them.
The red flag: The excessive down payment
Your contractor asks for a down payment that seems high for the job.
The solution: Down payments are entirely normal since contractors usually have big material purchases to make. However, crooked contractors can easily take the money and run and often ask for more than they should. Be skeptical of any contractor who asks for more than 1/3 the cost of the job. (Some areas, such as California, govern down payments with specific limits. Be aware of your state and local laws.)
The red flag: The scare tactic
Here’s a true fright: You hire someone for a job, such as installing a new roof, and they quickly start talking about five other things they should fix right away. And oh yeah, they’ll cost a lot more money.
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The solution: It’s easy to fall for this one because it’s so logical. If you’re doing a big job, such as removing a roof, it makes sense that you’ll uncover other invisible problems. To avoid this, always get a second opinion before tacking on additional, expensive extras to a project that’s already underway. Also, look out for scare tactics in their wording. If they say, “Your chimney is about to crumble!” rather than “Your chimney could use some structural work,” be skeptical.
The red flag: The guy with extra materials
Someone knocks at your door. “Hey, I was doing a roofing/siding/driveway/etc. job in your neighborhood, and I had some materials left over. I’ll work on your house at a discount so I don’t waste them. What do you say?”
The solution: This is one of the classics. Good contractors don’t use leftover materials on second jobs. Odds are this person has some low-quality materials and is going door-to-door with the scheme. If you hire them, the work will be shoddy, and you’ll never see them again. Politely turn them down and close the door.
The red flag: The storm chaser
A recent storm did significant damage to your roof. You need repairs, but most companies are booked solid because everyone else in the area got hit by the same storm. Someone shows up at your door saying they’re willing to work on your roof and even work with your insurance company.
The solution: Roofing experts say this is one of the most common schemes because it’s so tempting to believe. Storm damage often takes weeks for local roofers to catch up with, and you want your roof fixed ASAP. Storm chasers know people are desperate, so they travel around with pop-up businesses to weather-ravaged areas. They’re good at eyeballing how much an insurance company will pay for a particular roof and do the bare minimum to cover it while claiming the entire insurance check. Then, once the storm has passed, the company vanishes, never to be seen again.
To avoid this, only hire licensed, bonded and insured pros who maintain a local and established presence. You want to find someone who will back their work if there are problems years down the line.
10 items in your garage you can toss right now
Broken or duplicate tools
You probably don’t need five hammers, and that broken drill is just collecting dust on a shelf. Take stock of your tool collection, and consolidate so you don’t have an overflowing toolbox (or too many bulky bins filled with tools).
Old newspapers, magazines and catalogs
“You’re not going to read these again,” says Gordon. “If they’ve been banished from the house to the garage, they need to go.” If you can’t part with all of them, allow yourself to keep a few special editions or issues. Donate or recycle the rest.
Plastic planter trays
“It’s tempting to keep the trays after popping our spring blooms,” says Gordon. “Unless you’re a regular gardener, there’s no reason to keep these trays after transplanting. Clear them out so you don’t have to deal with spiders or other garage critters that will make a home in them.”
Sadly, your beloved tape collection is now obsolete. “Remember the static or flipping over to the ‘B-side’? Compared to streaming services, these outdated forms of entertainment require a lot of fussing,” says Gordon. “Make a quick list of the albums and movies you consider staples for your household, and plan to purchase in digital format.”
Bring that old chair you’ve been meaning to reupholster for years, or those old and outdated holiday decorations, to the thrift store or a donation center. If you can’t imagine placing them back inside your house anytime soon, you should say goodbye to those pieces.
Chances are you have no use for that old clunky computer printer and fax machine from the early ’90s. “If it’s in the garage, there’s a 90% chance that your old CPU is not worth the time it would take you to bring it back up to speed for day-to-day use,” says organizing and storing expert Emma Gordon of Clutter.com. “It’s better to find a recycling program that can take it off your hands.”
Old paint cans
Face it: You’re not going to use that hideous color of paint anywhere in your house. If you think you might need to touch up any of the rooms in your house, figure out which can of paint goes with which room, and label it with the room (dining room) and color (linen white). Remember that you can’t throw away full (or partially full) paint cans, so you’ll either need to find a hazardous-waste collection site or pour clean kitty litter in the can to dry up any remaining paint before disposing of the kitty litter and paint, and recycling the can.
Unused DIY project materials
While you’re clearing cans from old home-improvement projects, toss out old materials from DIY projects. “Almost every garage in America has a flimsy aluminum paint tray coated in house paint, with a matching roller in a crumpled grocery bag,” Gordon says. “As homeowners, we like to think we’re going to get more than one use out of our paint brushes, trays and other DIY tools, but it’s more likely we’ll forget and buy these items again anyway. The only reason to save otherwise disposable DIY tools would be if you have a project in mind that you plan to tackle soon.”
Old sports equipment
“Toss out balls if they don’t hold air anymore,” says Gordon. Same goes for broken tennis rackets, skis, helmets and more. If one of your kids no longer plays a sport, donate the used gear to a thrift store that accepts sports equipment.
Old shoes and clothes
“I promise you won’t miss the clothes and shoes you’re storing in the garage,” says Gordon. “These are the items that you don’t even have in your weekly outfit rotation, and if they haven’t been kept in an airtight container, they will require a lot of laundering to nix the garage fumes and dust.”