This article is excerpted from the Homebuilding Consumers Guide, from www.ownerbuilder.com
Part of a consumer advocate’s job is presenting the basics of better buying and selling. We look for information about products and services and the people who provide them to consumers.
Our goal is to inform, enlighten and educate both consumers and the businesses they frequent about their mutual problems and concerns.
The bottom line is helping people – both those who buy and those who sell.
It’s become clear that a consumer advocate can create advantages for those on both sides of the issue. What does a group of angry homeowners do when they feel they have received shoddily built homes for their lifetime investments? Do they picket the builders’ sales offices? Sue the builder for repairs and damages? Sometime they do, and sometimes they do even more.
When an unscrupulous business or questionable business practice is exposed, it helps honest merchants. It eliminates unfair competition by companies making false claims and promises, and builds consumer confidence in the legitimate businesses.
Consumers benefit, too. They better understand the actual costs to get a job done right the first time; they develop greater faith in decent business practices; and they learn how to differentiate between a real bargain and a scam.
Unfortunately, scams and rip-offs still exist. People continue to believe they are protected from wrong-doing by vigilant government agencies, and honest business owners think laws keep their competitors from operating unfairly. Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings is a consumer protection group for homeowners and home buyers dedicated to promoting better building practices and standards. National Association of Home Builders and National Association of the Remodeling Industry are professional builder associations dedicated to promoting better building practices and standards.
But no guaranteed protection exists, nor do assurances that the law will halt scams and rip-offs. That’s why it’s important for us all – buyers and sellers – to work together.
Whether you choose to work with an architect, general contractor or act as an owner-builder, there are many buy-sell decisions to make.
Not including all the preparatory work of acquiring land, putting in sewer, gas, electrical, and water hook-ups and pouring a foundation, you will need the following products and materials to build an average 2,000 square-foot home:
There’s plenty of opportunity for the criminal mind to take advantage of a home building or remodeling endeavor. Despite years of publicity and considerable law-enforcement activity, consumer scams are still thriving.
A new survey by state consumer protection agencies and the Consumer Federation of America shows no slackening of the pace and imagination of these schemes. Complaints about home building and remodeling rip-offs are becoming more numerous. The amount of money involved indicates consumer fraud remains a gigantic problem for the American public, draining billions of dollars from consumer pockets.
Once we’ve employed dishonest or incompetent people, there’s little most of us can do to protect ourselves against them because the problem has already been created and all we can do at that point is control our losses. Visit the Star Inspection Group’s collection of photographs by Roger Robinson showing actual defects found during inspections of new and old construction.
Home building and improvement scams often work like this:
A “contractor” knocks on the victim’s door and offers to sell real estate, repave a driveway, improve your home, or provide materials for a discount. They solicit you for business instead of you finding them.
Fall for a home building or improvement scam and the end result is a poorly done job. With no company name, telephone number or address, victims can’t locate the con artists to get back their money.
Here’s a few examples of scams and rip-offs…
A plumbing company requires customers to pay $75 and agree to pay “office” and “legal” fees before any evaluation or work is to be done. If customers refused to sign, or signed and later refused to authorize repairs, they were billed $700. If they complained to a consumer office or local police, they were billed another $200.
A remodel contractor takes money for a bedroom addition then leaves the job unfinished. The individual moves throughout a three state area continuing to take money for home improvement work he fails to complete. A criminal warrant is issued in relation to the illegal home improvement operation but authorities drop the charges after deciding not to pay for extradition.
A homeowner is offered the opportunity to put sealer on a roof for a very reduced price. After a substantial down payment, two men proceed onto the roof and spray a liquid on its surface. While the owner is distracted by the roof work, a third worker asks to enter the home – on the pretext that he needs to use the bathroom – and steals cash and jewelry from the residence.
A consumer purchases a set of stock plans from a plan design service only to discover that the house was intended to be built in another geographical region. When application is made for a building permit, they’re informed that additional information is required from a structural engineer to bring the drawing into compliance with regional building codes and local ordinance issues.
You can’t live your life being afraid of everybody but here are a few tips on how to avoid consumer fraud. The time spent in shopping around for honest, competent residential designer, contractor or supplier pays off in the end.
Red flags to look and listen for:
Here’s a few ways to protect yourself:
In addition, here are some consumer tips to keep in mind as you do research and investigate the architectural and construction possibilities for your project:
There are many potential problems in doing residential architecture and construction but there are solutions if the proper planning is accomplished. Whether doing a remodel job or new home construction work, the onus is on the consumer to be prepared.
The flip side of the coin is that there are also consumers who refuse to be pleased and withhold money from designers or contractors far in excess of “punch list items” that need completion or correction. This is an abuse of consumer power. Don’t become the customer from hell!
Experts say that if you receive a suspicious phone or mail inquiry, or think you’re the victim of fraud, get as many details as you can about the business or person and the pitch. Report it to the Better Business Bureau, your state’s Department of Consumer Affairs and local law enforcement. For more information, visit the National Consumers League’s National Fraud Information Center.
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