Thursday, August 11

Experts Weigh In on How Homeowners Can Avoid Costly Contractor Fraud

Getting ripped off is a homeowner’s nightmare, especially when it comes to home improvements. And that’s exactly what happened for residents in Knox and Hancock counties in Illinois, where several individuals say they were the victims of a scheme by fraudulent garage builders.

According to investigators in the area, homeowners met with the owners of Sturdy Building, based in Moulton, Iowa. The contractors told the homeowners they would perform work for them, but only after they signed a contract and put down 20% of the costs up front.

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office released a statement explaining the scheme. “The work is never started or completed,” they said, “and the suspects keep the 20% down payment.”

Sturdy Building, owned by Jeremy and Amanda Lawson, received a Better Business Bureau rating of F, the lowest possible score. The company does not hold accreditation with the BBB and has also failed to respond to 17 of the 18 complaints filed with the agency.

Several of the complaints concerning delivery issues and problems with products and services list down payments of thousands of dollars. The complaints also list start times for projects months after contracts were signed.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated issue. Many homeowners all over the nation have at one point or another experienced the same problems with contractors who don’t complete the work — or don’t do it right.

The National Center for the Prevention of Home Improvement Fraud aims to educate communities on how they can protect themselves from these stressful, and sometime costly, experiences.

Phae Moore, executive director for the NCPHIF, said that background checks are key.

“You want to mark sure that you check these people out,” Moore said. “Verify their insurance information and verify they are licensed and bonded.”

Moore also recommended that customers get references from at least three clients before signing with a general contractor, and they should make sure they fully understand the terms of the contract.

And contractors shouldn’t make customers pay for anything up front, so customers should be wary of contractors like the ones from Sturdy Building.

“Legitimate contractors typically have a relationship already established with local suppliers,” Moore said, “so unless they are flying in your marble from Italy, they are going down the street to get the materials. Why not meet them down there and pay for it yourself?”

“The best thing to do when getting ready to remodel is to check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any reports on the builder or remodeler you are about to hire,” says Nancy Long, Secretary for Tri Star Cabinets. “Also, be sure to ask for references from previous customers. Getting a name and phone number from the contractor can really offer some great insight.”

If the work is already underway and homeowners have suspicions, Moore said they should hire a third-party inspector to check it out.

Roofing scams are one of the top complaints for contractors, according to the NCPHIF.

The BBB reports that chimney sweeping and ductwork cleaning can lead to costly repairs if they’re done incorrectly. Companies promising free energy audits are also a known scam, as they typically trick the customers into paying for pricey and unnecessary home improvements.

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