The Most Common Home Repair Rip-Offs



by Loma Davies Silcott


There is a knock at your door.  A man says he has asphalt left over from a job and he’ll sell it to you cheap.  Another says he’s a furnace inspector and he warns you that your furnace is dangerous.  A third says he will put siding on your house for half price—however, he will need money upfront for expenses.  What do these—and many others—have in common?  They are all con artists who will take your money and leave you with nothing or at best an inferior job and product.

While con artists scam people of all ages, they like to target the elderly, according to Arizona Attorney General, Grant Woods.  He says the scam artists believe the elderly are more susceptible to their scams than younger people.

“I don’t believe mature adults are more susceptible,” Woods adds, “but I know they are targeted more than any other age groups.  Therefore, if you’re a mature adult, you have to be more aware as a consumer so you don’t become a victim.”

With warmer weather, the con artists blossom like dandelions and home owners must be wary.  Here are a few to watch out for:

Someone offers to do a free termite inspection.  He will find what he is looking for—he may even bring the evidence in with him.

The con-man gives a low quote to install siding on your house.  When he is finished you may find he has only sided the house and has not done the eaves, gutters, or window moldings, as a reputable contractor would.  He then will charge you an extra twenty percent or more to finish the job.

If you have a minor leak in your roof, the con-man starts to work and then announces that the sheeting the roof is nailed to is rotted out and needs replacing.  Get another professional opinion before proceeding.

Beware the door to door furnace inspector who offers a free inspection or a low price for cleaning.  He may even identify himself as a fire inspector.  Of course, he will find something extremely dangerous and your furnace must be shut down immediately before it kills someone.  And, he just happens to know someone who can get you a new furnace fast.  The “new” unit will be a used model that has been refurbished and your perfectly good furnace will be sold to the next victim.

Some painters agree to use a specific brand of high-quality paint, then pour cheap paint into name-brand cans.  Most of the cans the painter brings with him should be sealed when the job is started.  If not, ask why.

Beware of “asphalt gypsies.”  They drive around in uniforms and offer to seal your driveway for a very low price, e.g. $60 for a 5-gallon can.  However, when they finish, they may report you owe them $600 as they had to use ten cans.  They may settle for less, but they won’t take a check and while one accompanies you to the bank, the others may be robbing your house.

There is a new scam hatched every minute.  To protect yourself, deal only with licensed contractors that you have called.  Trying to save money by dealing with someone you don’t know can be more costly in the long run than paying the higher price a legitimate contractor wants.



Ways to Avoid Home Repair Scams

          The best way to protect yourself is to never hire anyone who shows up at your house or calls you on the telephone.  If you even think something might not be right, get a second opinion.

         Don’t ever buy left-over black-top.  A reliable contractor knows how much he needs for a job and won’t have an excess.

          Never pay any money upfront.  If a contractor needs money to purchase supplies, that’s a sign of trouble.  A legitimate contractor will have credit at lumber yards.  The person will cash your check and probably never return.

          Pay only after work is done—satisfactorily.

         Know your contractor.  Be sure he is licensed and get a written agreement stating what will be done and the cost.

          Be especially wary of contracting jobs that are prone to problems, e.g. leaky windows, cracked asphalt driveways, or improperly installed roofing material.

       Know what you need done before hiring a contractor.  Read a book on home repair or improvements that tells how the work should be done and also gives things to look for that will alert you to a scam.

       After the work is completed, before you pay the contractor, be sure all suppliers and workers have been paid.  If you pay the main contractor and he does not pay the suppliers or workers, they can put a lien on your property and you will have to pay for it—again.

        Specify the quality of building materials to be used.


A few simple precautions when doing repair and maintenance around the house can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars.  Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

From Senior Sense, 42 Ways to Improve Your Life by Loma Davies Silcott. Copyright © 1995 by Loma Davies Silcott. Excerpted by arrangement with Loma Davies Silcott. $7.95. Available directly from Loma Davies Silcott, 1777 Zinnia Street, Rapid City, SD 57703-6280. The author may be contacted via e-mail at