If the birds are singing and some guy offers to seal your driveway for 200 bucks, it must be spring.
Our long-awaited break of winter’s grip means the home improvement scammers are making the rounds again. One of them actually visited us last summer, saying he had “just enough material from another job in the neighborhood” to give me a great deal. We sent him packing.
His fellow con artists are carrying on the tradition, going door to door offering “rock-bottom prices” and saying they’ve “never had a dissatisfied customer.”
If that’s true, why are they always in such a hurry? Why do they need to do the work immediately? Why must they be paid in cash?
The reason is simple. They need to get running, to stay ahead of the people who enforce the laws they are breaking.
There are three Maine laws that deal with transient sales and home repairs. They are explained in detail in the Consumer Law Guide published by the attorney general’s office (visit www.maine.gov/ag. See chapter 17 of the Guide for laws relating to construction. Chapter 13 deals with transient sales).
Among the key pieces of advice are these. Always have a written contract for any job costing more than $3,000. There’s a three-day cooling-off period before work starts; if you decide you don’t want the job done within those three days, you can cancel the deal. You and the contractor may — but you don’t have to — agree to settle any disputes that might arise through mediation or arbitration.
Don’t sign a contract that includes any blank spaces (to be filled in later). And Maine law says the contractor cannot ask for more than one-third of the total contract amount as a down payment.
The attorney general has a model contract for home construction (see chapter 18 of the Guide). For information on professions requiring a state license, visit www.maine.gov/pfr.
You’ll likely want to check out a number of contractors before hiring one. Ask each of them how many jobs like yours they’ve done in the past year, and ask for references.
Find out what kinds of insurance they carry. Beware of those who demand more than the one-third upfront payment or insist on cash.
Also, be wary if the contractor asks you to get the building permit. Transient sellers must be licensed by the state, and an unlicensed contractor may not want to show up at your town hall.
Be extra wary of transient repair “pros” who “spot a problem” you had not noticed. Once inside your home, they may break something and then point out that it “needs fixing.” The shady contractor may insist you come with him to inspect something, while one of his associates steals your valuables.
Those last few points are among the National Consumers League’s top 10 red flags of home repair scams. Read more at www.nclnet.org.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.