August 2004 "Tis The Season For Rip Offs"
PLANNING FOR WEALTH AND SECURITY
By Attorneys Jennifer and Jeff Hawkins
TIS THE SEASON FOR RIP OFFS
It seems that every year a series of scams erupts as the summer begins to wind down. Many people begin to think about preparing their homes for winter as the temperatures become more moderate. Con-artists (“con” is short for confidence) give great assurances of quality and bargain prices for various home improvement projects including roofing, siding, and driveway asphalt. As this column has emphasized in previous editions, reputable contractors generally don’t bother with door to door sales because their reputations draw customers to them without having to pedal their products and services aggressively.
Driveway asphalt jobs are common scam opportunities for con-men. A salesman will stop by your house and tell you that your driveway needs a new coat of asphalt. He will quote a price per square foot and he will often offer a discount if you pay him in cash. Some con-artists will require a substantial down payment on the project before performing any work. Many of those people will spend the money and never come back to finish the job. The more savvy con-artists will then send a crew in to do the work, but will spread the asphalt so thin that it will crumble and turn to gravel after one full season of freezes and thaws.
Any time a contractor knocks on your door and asks for such service, you should immediately suspect that he intends to have you as his next victim. Always ask for the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of several of his past clients and call those references to determine whether the contractor has performed his job well in the past. Also, ask the contractor where he purchases his asphalt and call the asphalt company to determine whether they have had good dealings with him. Also, call at least one other asphalt contractor and get a quote to compare whether this contractor’s fee is reasonable. If the contractor’s fee is significantly higher or significantly lower than his competitors, you should suspect that you are either being overcharged or the workmanship will not be satisfactory because the price is too low. Finally, pay close attention to the installation of the asphalt and make sure that you are satisfied fully with the workmanship quality before paying the final balance on the contract.
The same strategies for protecting against asphalt scams can be used for other home improvement scams. Always call competitors to get prices for services, get references, and always call the references. The time to know whether a contractor can complete a job well for a reasonable price is before you hire him.
Be very careful about guarantees from contractors. If the contractor says that his workmanship is guaranteed for a period of time, make sure that you get a written statement from the contractor describing what failures the contractor will repair, how long the guarantee will last, and how long after a complaint is given to the contractor will the contractor take to fix the problem. Always remember that a contractor’s agreement is only as good as his word and that no warranty will protect you perfectly if the contractor is too sloppy to honor his word. Good quality contractors are expensive, but you usually get what you pay for. Most bargains turn out to be very expensive.
THIS ARTICLE IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. ALWAYS CONSULT AN ATTORNEY DIRECTLY BEFORE RELYING UPON THIS ARTICLE OR CHANGING AN ESTATE PLAN.
© 2004 by HAWKINS LAW PC, Estate, Trust & Business Attorneys. All rights reserved.