AUSTIN—Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton warns all Texans to be aware of unscrupulous contractors who may attempt to take advantage of home owners after damaging storms.
Home repair scams are one of the top 10 scams listed on the attorney general's website. The two most common sales pitches for home repair scams both include door-to-door sales. In the first scenario, the salesperson has done some work in the neighborhood and has extra supplies left over from a job. With the second scenario, the contractor noticed that you had some storm damage or needed some type of exterior remodeling. After a storm, many con artists use the disaster and your immediate needs of repairs as a selling point.
According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, most contractors are ethical and honest. Homeowners are encouraged to follow the guidelines issued by the Texas AG’s office to weed out the dishonest ones.
First, before making any repairs, get estimates from multiple contractors. Each quote should be in writing and include payment terms, schedule, total cost and other expectations. Keep a copy of all documents you are given and that you sign.
The AG recommends that homeowners should avoid out-of-town businesses. Make sure the contractor has a local presence. Check out the business with the Better Business Bureau and with past customers. Don’t feel pressured into making a decision.
Do not sign a contract that has any blanks. If the transaction occurs at a home, the contract should include a notice of cancellation, giving the homeowner an option to change their mind within three business days. In addition, the contact should include any guarantees and warranties, clearly outlining the responsibilities to meet all the warranty conditions and which business is responsible for the guarantee. It should also have a time frame for how long the guarantee is valid.
Check out all licenses, permits and insurance coverage that the contractor has. In addition to liability insurance, the contractor should carry workers’ compensation and disability insurance for any employees. Each independent contractor should have insurance.
Another red flag of unscrupulous contractors is a demand for the full payment up front. Ideally, an independent third party, such as a real estate inspector or an insurance adjuster, should inspect the work when it is complete and before final payment is made. Homeowners should not sign completion papers until the job is finished properly.
In Texas, when a contractor fails to pay the subcontractor or supplier, it is the homeowner who is responsible. This means that a subcontractor could put a lien on the home, even though the homeowner never contracted with the subcontractor. If the project costs more than $5,000, the contractor should deposit the payments into a construction account at a local financial institution. Homeowners have a right to monitor deposits and disbursements from this account to ensure that all laborers and suppliers are paid.
The Office of the Attorney General operates a toll-free complaint line at 800-621-0508 for Texans who may have been scammed. Homeowners may also file a complaint at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.