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11 Trusted Tips to Avoid a Home Improvement Scam

If you want to avoid being fooled and losing a lot of money, follow these tips.

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Roof repair, worker with yellow gloves replacing red tiles or shingles on house with blue sky as background and copy space.Rob Bayer/Shutterstock

Home improvement scams

Each spring and summer, professional home improvement scammers roam the U.S. in search of victims. They often target people who live in areas recently damaged by weather events and older adults, offering “deals” on home repairs. Scams include using low-quality roofing materials, painting houses with cheap paint, and not doing quality work in the promised time frame. Follow these simple tips to avoid a major headache and being left with an ill-repaired home. Don’t miss the home improvement project will double the value of your home.


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Research, research, research

Before you pick a company for your home improvement project do lots of research. A lot of online review sites have been created in the last couple of years that make finding a reputable company much easier. “Researching previous customer opinions will provide potential customers a better idea of what to expect,” says Dina Dwyer-Owens from Neighborly, a community of home service experts. “Confirm that a company has no complaints from the Better Business Bureau, a reputable source for trustworthy businesses.”

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Business woman signing contract at officewrangler/Shutterstock

Get a contract

Demand a written contract that lists the specific work to be done, costs, materials to be used, start and completion dates, and warranty information on products and installation. Read the fine print carefully and do not permit work before signing it.

To avoid emptying out your pockets paying for endless home repairs, do these things that smart homeowner do once a month.

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Two construction engineers shake hands in construction siteboonchoke/Shutterstock

Communicate

Make sure you establish a strong connection with your contractor before any work starts. They should know what your expectations are for the project and that those expectations should be outlined in your contract. “Additionally, if the service isn’t living up to expectations from the established agreement, it’s vital to speak about it with the provider. If the company isn’t responding, isn’t open to regular communication or is taking a long time to respond, it may be time to research and hire a new service provider,” Dwyer-Owens says. If you receive suspicious mail, be careful. Scammers are everywhere, and many of them target your postbox.

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Happy european salesman presents his project standing near the entrance doorIakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

Be cautious

Be extremely cautious of door-to-door salesman offering to give you to best deal on a home repair project. Take the company’s information and tell them you’ll contact them if you need work done. If the salesman pushes you to make a decision fast, don’t trust them. Always think over big decisions, such as home improvement projects, for at least a day. Be especially wary if the contractor drives a vehicle with no company name and phone number or with out-of-state license plates. Also, after you’ve hired a contractor make sure you know the specific time they’re planning to come and their name. Only let them in your house to do work if the information lines up. Read up on these secrets contractors wish first-time home buyers knew.

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young man in eyeglasses holding cup of coffee and using laptop on windowsillLightField Studios/Shutterstock

Look up the problem yourself

Many repair technicians will try to charge you for a bigger job than you need so they can make more money. If you know that something is wrong with your house, research how other people have fixed it online. A scam that George Strauch, owner of Glass Doctor in Ramsey, NJ, sees a lot is people being charged for completely new windows when a simple solution was available. “When the temperatures inside and outside the home vary drastically, many windows will build moisture on the inside,” says Strauch. “People believe that something is wrong with their windows and many repair technicians will take advantage of this, suggesting that either their windows are old, not sealing properly, or are cracked.” Then, homeowners end up spending thousands of dollars on new windows that they didn’t actually need.

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Close up view of female realtor showing to young couple of buyers flat plan on the sheet of paper sitting on sofa indoors, discussing buying apartment, considering flat purchase, interior layout fizkes/Shutterstock

Get a permit

This is a step that many homeowners skip because they think it’s a waste of time. To avoid a home improvement scam you should always require your contractor to pull a permit. “By doing all work with a permit, the city will then provide inspections to make sure the work was done to code and by law, the contractor must fix any issues identified by the inspectors,” says Zachary Rose, founder of Rose Architects. “By skipping the permit process, you are at the mercy of the contractor and there is zero accountability for their work.”

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Be smart about payments

Do not pay more than 25 to 33 percent of the total job cost as a deposit. Hold off on your final payment until the job is finished and you are satisfied with the completed work. Also, don’t make a final payment until you receive a lien waiver stating that the contractor has paid subcontractors and for supplies. These are things every homeowner needs to know ASAP.

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Cropped image of businessman giving credit card from wallet at deskAndrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Always pay with a credit card

Paying with a credit card will ensure that you have protection against scammers. Never pay in cash. Dishonest technicians will ask for money upfront and leave you with an unfinished job. If you pay with a credit card, your credit card company can work with you to dispute the charge.

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Woman at home office using calculator and computer, calculating budgetLeszek Glasner/Shutterstock

Price match

A low price tag for a big project might seem tempting, but make sure you do your research first. “Since lower prices may be offered due to cheaper equipment and a lack of experience, make sure to compare prices with other local businesses by calling to see what the average estimate of the job would be,” says Dwyer-Owens. More times than not, paying a higher price will get the job done correctly and save you money in the long run. Watch out for these secrets home inspectors won’t tell you.

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Engineer working on outdoor project and talking on phone goodluz/Shutterstock

Check the warranty

Jeremy Anderson, owner of Aire Serv in Las Vegas, Nevada, encourages customers to always have their technician check the warranty on their broken item through the manufacturer. Many times, if the warranty is less than 10 years old you could have parts under warranty that you can get for free or at a discounted price. Some technicians may ignore the facts that the item is under warranty to make a little extra money.

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Contact references

Always make sure to use a contractor with lots of experience that can provide you with trustworthy references. “My rule of thumb is at least three references, and the homeowner must speak to all three prior to agreeing to any work,” says Rose. “If the contractor cannot provide references, that is a clear indication that they are new to the industry or that there is something fishy.”

Next, check out these ridiculous home improvement fails that will make you cringe.