Home Repair Fraud

As you emerge from your home this spring, you may notice the structure has suffered some damage from winter. Unfortunately, this is also the season for home repair fraud.

It is estimated that Americans will spend approximately $133.9 billion on contracted home improvement projects and do-it-yourself repairs this year. Due to the fact that homes are not selling because people are not buying, the home repair industry is thriving. This condition makes it lucrative for con artists, and each year Americans lose millions of dollars on fraudulent repairs.

But homeowners can protect themselves from becoming victims of home repair frauds by educating themselves on their rights as consumers.

Con artists carry out home repair scams in many different ways. Below are a couple of examples of common home repair scams and tips for hiring a contractor:

1. The quick repair made with materials left over from another job.

The con artist approaches a homeowner with an offer to repair the driveway or roof with materials left over from another job in the neighborhood. Many of these fraudulent workers appear after heavy rains, winds, snow or other disasters that wreck lawns, roads and driveways. What seems like a good deal for the homeowner turns into a nightmare when it becomes apparent that the con artist used inferior materials, made faulty repairs or did not even do the job at all.

2. The home improvement loan scam where contractors persuade homeowners to finance the project through a lender the contractor knows.

Once the job is underway, the contractor and lender pressure the homeowner to sign a series of blank or vaguely written contracts. The homeowner has unwittingly signed a contract for a home equity loan with alarmingly high interest rates and payments.

To make matters worse, the contractor may not complete the job satisfactorily or even finish it at all. Some homeowners have even been tricked into signing papers that allowed the fraudulent contractor to obtain a mortgage or assign a lien against their property.

In these instances, homeowners — especially older homeowners –could face foreclosure if they cannot make the high mortgage payments.

When considering potential contractors, homeowners should be wary of those who solicit door-to-door, just happen to have leftover materials from another job, accept only cash payments or ask for the entire payment up front.

If they refuse to provide references, or suggest or insist that they borrow from a lender the contractor knows, those are red flags and should indicate to the homeowner that they are finished talking with this contractor.

Homeowners should ask for a written contract that fully outlines the details of the job, including product and materials specifications, time lines, warranties and payment schedules. Never sign a contract before reading it carefully or if it contains blank spaces that can be filled in by someone later.