Substituting Inferior Products
Some remodelers sell homeowners one product and install another. When they write the contract, they “forget” to specify the exact brand and model.
They may even refuse to put that information in, citing changing model numbers or some other excuse. Then they can get away with installing something that’s less expensive, substandard, or even used.
Products that are out of sight, like insulation, roofing, or wiring, are prime targets for this kind of scam, as are complicated products that intimidate people, like a furnace or water heater. Also watch out for paint or concrete that can be watered down.
Profit by Intimidation
Halfway through a job, disreputable contractors jack up prices and intimidate homeowners into paying the extra money. Women and elderly people can be particularly vulnerable to this kind of bullying.
Others simply pay up because they want to get the work done and don’t want to fight.
For example, a painter may offer to paint the exterior of a house for $1,000 and then, when the work is only partly done, demand an additional $1,000. If the homeowners refuse to pay the extra money, the contractor threatens a lawsuit or hints that the job will be sabotaged. This type of scam artist always refuses to sign a contract.
Making Extra Work
Unless you understand construction work or are thoroughly familiar with the job at hand, contractors can bamboozle you into paying a premium for work that doesn’t really need to be done.
Once the job is under way, the contractor will try to convince you that they can’t “do it right” unless they add more work — stripping off the existing shingles before putting on a new roof, or putting in new piping before installing the new sink, for example.
If these claims were legitimate, the contractor would have included them in the contract or notified you of possible problems before work began. In reality, he is probably just trying to keep his crew busy for a few days or needs a little extra profit.
If a technology or product sounds too good to be true, avoid it. There are plenty of snake-oil merchants selling things like paints that will add insulating value, duct-cleaning services that promise to eradicate bacteria, or non-toxic powders that keep termites away. These kinds of products and services are the household-maintenance equivalent of fat-burning pills. Believing these kinds of claims is like wishing away warts.
Irresistibly Low Bids
Sometimes contractors desperately need work or are just getting started in business and need a job to give them credibility. They submit a bid that’s incredibly low — half of what the other contractors are charging — and the homeowners accept it.
Unfortunately, there’s no way the contractors can get the work done on budget. So they start issuing change orders on items that should have been included in the original bid, marking up materials like crazy, and taking shortcuts whenever possible. The result is a substandard job that comes in way above bid price and, frequently, much later than expected.
Illustrations by Mark Kensak