5 Biggest Home Repair Rip-offs

Replace the roof? Rebuild the foundation? Not so fast. How to avoid being scammed.

By Tom Philbin from Reader's Digest | March 2007

When Ron Harrison was buying his house outside Atlanta, the professor of entomology at Mercer University wanted to inspect it for termites himself. With the help of two knowledgeable colleagues, he gave the home a clean bill of health.

At the closing, though, Harrison got a surprise. The house had recently been treated for termites. But he could tell that it never had termites. The seller had been ripped off for more than $1,000 — by a pest control firm that had both inspected and treated the house.

Home repair rip-offs are on the rise, up 60 percent over the past five years, according to the Council of Better Business Bureaus. And the cons could cost you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Here’s how today’s five biggest scams work, and what you can do to protect yourself.

5 Biggest Home Repair Rip-offsClipart.com

Leaky Roof Wrangling
The Rip-Off
Water is coming through your roof. Or is it? 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, a job that typically costs $5,000 or more.

The Reality

Most of the time, roof leaks occur because the sealing around vent pipes has failed, the metal flashing on the chimney has deteriorated or the connections between roof sections have eroded. Replacing the sealing or flashing, simply and cheaply, will often solve the problem.

Normally, an asphalt shingle roof lasts 15 to 20 years. You need to replace the roof if you see curling or missing shingles or a large amount of granular material from the shingles collecting in gutters.

Don’t get talked into having the bad roof torn off, at a potential 50 percent increase in costs, unless your building code demands it. Many towns will allow a second or even third asphalt roof to be installed if the home’s framing can support the extra weight.

And beware a roofer who says you need an entirely new deck, the wood base beneath the shingles. That will cost thousands of dollars more. In fact, a completely new deck is needed only one in 1,000 times. Usually only a portion of a deck needs to be replaced, but only if it’s rotted.

Basement Boondoggle
The Rip-Off
If your basement is chronically wet, unscrupulous contractors might tell you they need to dig out your entire foundation and waterproof it, for anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000. More often, though, the solution is simple and costs very little.

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.

“Think of your masonry foundation as a rigid sponge,” explains waterproofing expert Richard Barako. If the water volume is above normal, water will wick through the cinder blocks. So before calling in professional help, try to reduce the moisture along the foundation by cleaning gutters, rerouting downspouts, repositioning sprinklers, or packing fresh soil six inches high against the foundation and sloping it back to level within about three feet.

Damp walls may be caused by high humidity. To test, attach a piece of aluminum foil to the foundation wall; if moisture shows up on the patch in a day or two, it’s just condensation. Start shopping for a dehumidifier.

If water is still seeping in, repair any cracks with hydraulic cement, available at home stores, and apply a quality waterproof paint such as Latex Base Drylok Masonry Waterproofer. As a last resort, consider hiring a professional engineer, whose impartial advice would be worth the expense. Home inspectors are less expensive, but be sure they’re certified by the American Society of Home Inspectors.