A Deal Too Good to Be True
One afternoon, a contractor stopped by a woman’s home in Topeka, Kansas, and told her he had noticed cracks in her driveway. He offered to apply a fresh coat of asphalt at a good price, since he had some material left over from another job in the neighborhood.
The woman agreed and, once the work was finished, paid up. That shiny black coating looked wonderful at first, but within a month it had bubbled and cracked, leaving the driveway looking like an alligator’s hide. The faulty material was ultimately scraped off and replaced with a fresh coat — at great cost to the woman.
These kinds of shoddy home improvements inevitably involve contractors who are “in the area” and have some “leftover material.” They’re usually sealing driveways, repairing roofs and gutters, or clearing chimneys — the kinds of jobs that can be wrapped up in less than a day. When the work fails and you try to call the contractor back to make repairs, the phone is disconnected or belongs to someone else.
The Free Test
Beware of contractors offering to conduct free tests for termites, radon, lead, and other scary items. You can be guaranteed that, once inside your house, the contractor will find problems.
Working with bogus meters, they’re sure to find high radon levels, dangerous lead, or termite infestations — they’ll sprinkle sawdust, wood chips, and even a few termite bodies around as proof.
Sometimes these visitors are simply sizing up the house for burglary. Others are seeking a generous deposit for work they never intend to do, or they may take the money, make a few slipshod repairs, and move onto the next house.
Promoting their products in flyers or ads in the local newspaper, contractors often offer too-good-to-be-true prices to entice buyers. What they sell varies; the hot item these days is Thermopane windows, says Robert Nichols, an attorney for the California Consumer Protection Office. In the past it’s been air conditioners, air filters, and lightning rods.
Invariably, the low-priced version — the one that’s on special — is unsuitable for your home. But once the contractor is in the door, he’ll use high-pressure sales tactics to sell you something similar — at a drastic markup. In the end, you’ll pay two or three times what the item would cost if purchased through a reputable dealer.
“They’ll have someone pay $900 for an installed product that should cost $300. They’ll tell the homeowners there are all kinds of installation difficulties, or that the product had to be specially ordered. Then they’ll have the homeowners sign a contract so they can’t back out,” Nichols says.
Illustrations by Mark Kensak