Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES -- When considering home improvement projects, homeowners may encounter con artists out to make a "quick dollar." Although most home improvement contractors are honest, fraud is a leading consumer problem, said a consumer education specialist with New Mexico State University.
"People are swindled in many ways," said Susan Wright with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "A common scheme involves a swindler talking victims into having needed repair work done immediately at what seems to be a low price. Homeowners are conned into having on-the-spot repairs of driveway cracks and potholes. But they lose out because swindlers use cheap substances, such as old crank case oil, that will wash away with the first heavy rain."
Watch out for claims of cheap paint jobs, she warned. Paint may be watered down or applied in only one coat. A few weeks later, the new paint job looks worse than the old one.
In the "model home" scheme, homeowners are talked into buying products like awnings at inflated prices, she said. The con artist promises them a commission every time a sale is made in the community, but has no intention of using any home as a model for the product.
"In the bait-and-switch scheme, homeowners are pushed to buy a home improvement product at a low price," she said. "When homeowners express interest in the products, the sales people try to talk them into buying a more expensive product."
To avoid fraud, check with the local Consumer Protection Agency, Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce for information about the company or person before entering an agreement, Wright said. Find out if former customers were pleased with the work.
"Resist all exaggerated claims of immediate substantial savings or of commissions offered," she advised. "Never agree to have work done on the spur of the moment. Think about the offer. A reliable contractor will wait for your decision."
All promises of work to be done and guarantees should be put in a written contract. Homeowners should read and understand the contract before signing it, Wright said. The contract should include the full extent of the work. If the job is painting, find out if all or only part of the home is to be repainted. Also, notice if the type, grade and color of materials to be used are described and if a work completion date is given, making allowances for bad weather.
Make sure that removing existing materials, such as old shingles, is part of the agreement rather than a separate contract. The contract should list the person responsible for cleaning up and paying for supplies and labor, and the person accountable for liability and compensation insurance in case of an on-the-job accident.
A clause in the contract also should include homeowners' rights to approve plans before work begins and to approve the method of payment for work done.
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