Top tips to avoid getting conned by bad tradesmen

Dont let cowboy builders near your home!

Now Spring is almost upon us, the daffodils are in full bloom; people are starting to mow their lawns, cars are being washed on driveways, we say a firm goodbye to winter, however the impending warm weather also brings out the scam artists and the cowboys, all of whom are after YOUR MONEY!!!!

Lets take a look at some ways that you can avoid being ripped off during the year.

As many people have more or less been confined to their homes for the duration of the winter, its common to see far more people out and around now than in the colder months, doing gardening, odd jobs, painting exterior woodwork etc and they are easy targets for con-men and cowboys looking to make a few extra quid from you. BEWARE!

“Spring and the onset of better weather here in England always brings out the cowboys, the dodgy door canvassers and the con-artists,” says Guy Bell, Never Paint Agains resident, home improvement Expert and author.

“These people often target vulnerable people like lone women, old age pensioners and the like, and to be frank, they are out for all they can get.”

When you have a pressing need to get something done, maybe tiding up an overgrown garden for example, It can be very easy, unless you are forewarned and prepared, to fall prey to a smooth-talker who just happens to have the perfect (and cheaper) solution to your problem.”

Home Improvement Scams

Home Improvement scams and cons come in many guises, but most of them emulate, in some form, the “travelling handyman” or the builder who happens to be in the area. A person knocks on a door, saying they’re doing other work in the local area or that they have leftover supplies from a different job; rogue carpet fitters being a prime example of that.

They offer to do some work, usually taking the money from the customer in advance, to go and buy some materials for the job and are often never seen again. Of course, there are many variations on this theme, but they all have the same goal: to separate trusting homeowners from their money.

“Don’t ever hire someone unless you know, without question, their permanent business address, and they can prove it”, says Guy of NPA.

Check they have a land line phone number, and/or a business card or something similar, with their details on. That’s only the first question you should ask them. Reputable business people and established contractors will have no problem answering your questions and supplying proof of who they are and their expertise. If they have a sign written van outside, that can sometimes be a good sign that they are traceable.

Also if you are looking for a TRUE PROFESSIONAL to work on your home, it is unlikely that they will demand payment in CASH notes only. Sometimes, a cheque at the end of the job is sufficient, or they may even send you an invoice for the work, with payment terms clearly stated, such as “payment to be made in 14 days or similar.

Remember if you pay someone cash-in-hand, it is highly likely that there will be no comeback and no guarantee, so if they paint your house, and a week later it washes off, tough luck! (If this happens, it’s your own fault!…………..& you should take a bit better note of what we tell you!). In addition, it is an OFFENCE to pay cash, you have been warned, do NOT underestimate the Inland Revenue!

NPA top tips for avoiding home improvement scams

1) Scrutinise anyone who might perform home improvement services for you especially those who knock on your door and just happen to be in the locality at that time. Our advice is to say a firm no to anyone who APPROACHES YOU for work. They cant be all that good if they have to knock your door. The best way from experience, is to tell the person that you rent the house. That usually does the trick.

2) Always demand to see proof of their permanent business address, proper identification and appropriate licensing and insurance BEFORE letting anyone into your home. Dont be afraid to ask for official ID such as driving licence, or a CIS card. (A CIS card is a European contractors tax certificate, in the form of a plastic card with their photo on it). If they are genuine, they will be happy to show you.

3) Make sure you work out the details of the amount of the payment, the payment schedule, and the exact scope of work (the details of what work is to be completed on your home) before any money is exchanged and before work begins. Some contractors may ask for a small deposit. You should not pay more than a third of the total value as a deposit, and NEVER PAY THIS IN CASH!!! While the cheque is clearing, that can also give you time to check them out to see if they really are who they say they are.

4) Get everything in writing. Asking for a written estimate might probably discourage a con-artist, as traditionally, a cowboy builder will provide you with his interpretation of the work, rather than perhaps what you want or thought you were getting. Any reputable home improvement contractor will understand that they are competing for your business and should be happy to give you a written estimate. This is a great way to judge the differences in professionalism and cost.

5) Don’t allow yourself to be rushed or pressured into agreeing to work that, (until they turned up on your doorstep an hour ago), you didnt know you needed! Do your research. The internet is a great place to start, plus ask friends or family, or even neighbours, who they got to do any work previously, then do the right thing and CONTACT THE CONTRACTOR, instead of waiting to be preyed on by a con man..

……………..and rather importantly, remember you have every right to say “NO” to anyone offering to do work on your home and you have every right to ask them to leave your premises/doorstep. If they do not do so, call the police!

How to avoid Cowboy wall coating companies

I hope that the above information is food for thought. I would not wish for any reader to be the victim of a con or scam this spring or summer. Remember, there are many companies about who will knock your door and try and con you.

Many of these people may be turned out smart, well spoken and seem very plausible, but they are NOT YOUR FRIENDS!!!!! They are not doing you a favour, they are after your hard earned money!

DONT GIVE IT TO THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!….and especially, if you live in the UK, and are approached by a well known external coating company, offering an awful trowel applied coating with a rough bark effect, who will say that he is the “marketing manager”, this is an out and out lie, do not be fooled! They will almost certainly be a “commission only” door knocking manager.

UPDATED 19TH JUNE 2010. The company who did this was called Protectacoat and they were based in Peterborough. They have now ceased trading we are reliably informed!

Tell them you rent the house, that will get shot of them. There are nothing wrong with exterior coatings at all, if they are from a reputable company, but the company I am talking of will charge you a price of up to 3 times what the competition do and are renowned for ultra high pressure sales pitches, often lasting well into the night!

While the above advice is given in good faith, there are many very good companies and contractors who you can choose from to carry out works to your home. There are however particular industries that lead themselves to high pressure selling or dodgy conmen on the doorstep.

The affected industries that get the worst press are usually exterior wallcoatings (Trowel applied render based coatings being the worst example), Kitchens, bathrooms, Conservatories, Double Glazing, Driveways and of course the “odd job” man. There are some reputable firms offering this, but there are equally firms who cant wait to rip you off, so be warned.

…………Be warned and be careful if someone approaches you out of the blue.
It’s your money, and it’s your choice! Stay safe out there

Article by NPA. Posted 21st January 2008.

Leave a comment below...