Murphy Brothers Blog

Desperate Homeowners are easy targets for charlatans.

In just this past week I have heard first hand of three separate instances of people, in their attempts to get a deal, got fleeced.  If you read the paper, internet news or watch TV it is easy to understand why consumers believe that contractors are desperate and that it is a great time to get an amazing deal on your home improvement project.

The fact is, it is the desperate contractor (DC) who is ready to offer anything a potential client might ask in order to just get some cash to pay the line of vendors whom he owes for prior projects.  A project interview with a desperate contractor might sound like this…

Home owner (HO) “I want a high end kitchen remodel for under $40,000.”
DC, “No Problem.”
HO, “With hardwood floors and cherry cabinets.”
DC, “I do them for that all the time.”
HO, “With Granite countertops and you need to include all new Sub-Zero appliances.”
DC, “I am sure we can make it work out.”
HO, “,and a small addition with a mudroom and small bathroom.”
DC, “If you can just give me a $10,000 deposit we will plan to get started in about 2 weeks.”

I have been on many 100’s of project interview appointments over my lifetime and have seen an increased trend in the last 3 years, where one or more of the competing companies are offering to do a project for 20, 30 or even 40% less then what we can properly do the job for.  People are hopeful that this “too good to be true price” can actually be completed for the amount that was quoted.  They reason, “..even if the contractor is a bit off in his bid or understanding of the scope, there is plenty of room in that low price to get the job completed, maybe fix a few things or to add some better finishing touches after the contractor is gone.  “I mean wood is wood, how hard can it be?”  To the one’s who takes the bait, plenty!  Job Abandonment, not pulling permits or missing vital inspections, poor materials and workmanship, ridiculous job schedules (or no schedules), not paying vendors who then lien your home or worse harass your family…….  At the end of the day the job was done with compromised integrity, marginal quality, in a greatly extended time frame at 10, 20 or 30 percent more cost than what it was supposed to be.

In reviewing few situations that I have witnessed recently, I know a couple who signed up for the “Free, No Risk” roofing and siding inspection by a storm chaser.. or er uh.. “Insurance Claims Expert”.  After the company was successful in getting a claim awarded for the client by finding real hail damage, the roof and vinyl siding were almost completed in two weeks.  As the owners were now asked to approve release of the final  check when they discovered that their house was now sided in a product that was considerably less expensive than the steel siding that was on there home prior to the storm.  The company had almost got away with the switch and would have made a nice extra profit by being compensated for steel siding by the insurance company and then installing vinyl siding in hopes that the clients wouldn’t notice the lesser product.

Another young man had found a local handyman ad on Craigslist and hired the purveyor to install the crown moulding he had purchased and stained in his family room and den.  When he returned home at the end of the day, he found most of the crown nailed to the wall, horribly. The miter’s were awful, the handyman did not know how to cope two pieces together in an inside corner and pieces were cut short and filled with putty.  The “handyman” was probably a computer lab technician a month ago or a laborer on a roofing crew who figured a half inch was close enough.  The end result was having to fire a guy who had no clue about what he was doing, and wrecked most of the trim that will now have to be repurchased and refinished and then installed by someone who is truly experienced in crown moulding installation.

My third victim is now a client who had hired his son’s friend’s, unemployed dad to re-shingle his roof that had worn out with age.  The “dad” told them that he had done some roofing when he was young and that their roof was an easy roof for him to do.  Well the roof was easy, for someone who had arms, legs and eyes.  The attempt at shingling was an abomination to the trade and two years later the owner is paying for it again to have us tear it off and do it again.

I have dozens of other examples but you will need to come up and buy me something cold and wet when we both have a few hours to kill.  So, how do you protect yourself from having your own story to tell?  No matter how large or small the project, at a bare minimum the person or company you hire should be licensed per your state and/or local laws and have in force, both liability and workers compensation insurance.  Verify that their license is in good standing and that they have no unresolved complaints at the state or with the BBB. A long list of references of both, clients, vendors and a bank contact are some other very highly suggested things to request, and you need to make a few calls.  Lastly, active membership in local trade and community organizations are usually a good sign of conscientious people who are planning to be around for the long haul.

Maybe it would be fun to reflect on recognizing desperate consumers.. maybe next time.

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