“We Just Happen to be in The Neighborhood”

“We just happen to be in the neighborhood” is a pickup line for scam operators. This line should be a RED FLAG warning, just like a bandit walking into a bank and saying “Stick ’em up!”. Be ready to say “No” to contractors who show up at your home or call you on the phone with this introduction.

Here is an example of the concrete driveway repair or replacement scam. A man in work clothes shows up at your door at about mid-morning. He says he has a crew putting in a couple of concrete driveways about two blocks away. He says they are almost done and he will have extra concrete and a crew that he has already paid for the whole day. So he says he will make you a good deal on replacing your asphalt driveway with concrete. His price is normally $600 to $700 dollars under any normal job. So you agree, no contract is signed, and he says pay us when we are done. The concrete truck arrives and pours the cement. He will always keep you away from the concrete truck driver. (Why will be clear in a minute.) The job is finished, and it’s not too bad. However if you look closely you see the framing boards are not two-by-fours but one-by-fours, so there is a wavy effect on the sides of the driveway. You pay the contractor and they are gone. Then in a week you get a notice that a lien will be placed on your home until you pay for the truckload of concrete. Now you find out that the contractor told the truck driver that the homeowner was paying separately for the concrete. So your cheap driveway is now costing you $600 to $700 more than you were told. But there is more, you are not just paying for the left over concrete but the entire truckload. If you refuse to pay, the concrete company has every legal right to put a lien on your home. If you take them to court, you will not win because the concrete is in your driveway and you, as the home owner, are responsible. The driver will say you stood there and watched him pour the concrete into your driveway.

Another group of scammers the police fraud squads call “The Travelers” will be arriving soon in Southern California. Their M.O. is to arrive at your door and tell you they are in the neighborhood doing a roof or gutter repair, and they noticed a problem on your roof. They quickly produce a ladder and go up on your roof and come back down with broken shingles and rotting wood. They bring the rotting wood with them, it was on your roof. They say before the major rains come, you need a patch job. They will find all kinds of fake problems. Most of the times they will do no work, and you can’t tell because it is so high up on your roof.

Here’s how you protect yourself from these con artists. First, insist on seeing their California State Contractor’s License. If they have a license number call the state at 800-321-2752 and check out the license. (Most professional scammers will be gone by then.)

Next, check the name and picture on their driver’s license with the name on the contractor’s license. If they say they don’t match because they are working on their brother’s contractor’s license, you say no way. It’s like telling a cop that you are driving on your brother’s drivers license. It’s not legal.

Next, ask for references from other jobs they have done in your area. By this time all the crooks will be gone. With any licensed contractor, make sure you get a written contract with dates for when the work should be completed. Plus, a penalty if it is not completed on time. Remember state law says the down payment cannot be more than 10% or $1,000, which ever is less. So if they want 50% up front to buy the materials, say no way.

Another good idea is to check the contractor’s credit at places like Home Depot or Lowes.  If they have not paid their bills for other jobs you don’t want them using your money to pay back on construction materials.

Always get lien releases from all subcontractors.  You don’t want to make your final payment to your contractor until you know he has paid all his subs and for all materials. There are many good licensed contractors out there that would be more than willing to show you their past work and let you talk to their past customers, so don’t deal with the scammers. GOOD LUCK and GOOD BUILDING.