Funny business is not just for comedians. And just because a someone looks like a home contractor, does not mean that he isn't a stooge and that the joke won't be on you if you don't do some due diligence before handing them money to fix up your home.
Sure spring is the time for birds, flowers, and baseball. It is also high season for contractor scams .
Just weeks after you've shoveled the last snow off your driveway, there's likely to be a nice, clean-cut guy ringing your doorbell saying he's got his work crew down the street painting or waterproofing or recoating asphalt and they've got lots of extra product left and he'll do your place for 50% off if you agree to the job today and pay in cash.
Since you're in the mood to get the house cleaned up, and you don't feel like going to Home Depot, you agree. They show up, do their work and they're gone before sundown. Then after a few weeks you notice that paint job is looking a little thin after a spring shower, and the recoated driveway is also fading fast.
And that contractor? Gone to the next town looking to pull the same job.
"As long as there are houses, there will be contractor scams," says Frank Walker, a Seattle-based fraud investigator. "It takes some intuition and common sense to weed them out."
Figuring out if the tradesman at your door is trying to swindle you may not be as easy as you think. He's not necessarily the guy in a beat-up truck and greasy overalls. "Many of them have shiny new vehicles and equipment and they make a great professional appearance," says Roger Hays with the Contractors State Licensing Board of California. "Some of these guys make a very nice living."
Spring and early summer are when they move through suburbs across America, knowing that everyone's looking to spruce up their exteriors in the nicer weather.
Here are five signs that should raise a red flag when you're dealing with a contractor:
• 1. The Doorbell. The vast majority of good, licensed contractors don't go door-to-door in search of work, because they're too busy working. If a guy shows up and says he can paint your fence this afternoon for half of what you paid six years ago for the job, remember that you're getting what you pay for.
• 2. No Trace. His truck doesn't have a company name or a local phone number on the side, or it's got out-of-state plates. He seems to have "run out of business cards" too.
• 3. Cheap Materials. "Hey, we've got some leftover paint/shingles/concrete from a job we did yesterday..." Yeah, the paint is watered down, the shingles fell off of a truck on the freeway. If it's a contractor you don't know, there's a good chance these materials have been damaged, stolen or both.
• 4. Right Now. He and his crew have to do your job this afternoon, because tomorrow they're headed to a big job 50 miles away. And a contract? Sorry, all out of them! Can I see one of the jobs you've done? Sorry sir, it's now or never? Pass.
• 5. Show Me the Money. He asks for cash and wants it before they start. Many trusting souls give it to him and he walks away saying he'll be back in 10 minutes with his crew to start the job. Uh huh. Another variation: He brings a couple of guys with him and they begin sanding, scraping or preparing the work surface and the contractor returns to the door asking for money to run to the nearest home center to pick up a needed material, he says he'll deduct it from his final fee. He leaves, the workers hang around a few minutes and slip away down the street never to return.
Overall, it's probably best to stick with a recommended contractor when you use one. If friends and neighbors can't help, try talking to the managers of the local plumbing and hardware supply stores because they deal with local contractors on a regular basis and they know the good ones from the bad ones.
Also contact your state's contractor licensing department, because many allow you to check on a contractor's status online.