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By Len Penzo
May 31, 2015
paint footprints on floor
Doug Armand—Getty Images

From time to time we bring you posts from our partners that may not be new but contain advice that bears repeating. Look for these classics on the weekends.

I’ve had numerous people come to my house offering “great deals” on home repair services over the years.

You know the type. Most of these guys wouldn’t know what a contractor’s license looked like if it hit them in the head.

One hustler knocked on my door recently. This was our exchange:

“Good afternoon, sir! I’m with Speedy’s Chimney Sweep. When was the last time your chimney was inspected?”

“Hmmm … good question,” I said, scratching my chin and looking towards the heavens. “I think it was about 85 years ago.”

“Sir, I’m pretty sure these homes were built in the late 90s.”

“Then maybe it was 15 years ago.”

“Right. Anyway, we’re having a chimney inspection special today, complete with top hat and tails, for $39.”

“Nineteen dollars, huh? Well, I don’t get paid until next Friday and all I’ve got in my wallet is $35 and a Wienerschnitzel coupon.”

“That’ll work, sir! When can we start?”

“Now — but only if I get to keep the coupon.”

“I’ll get my top hat.”

Okay, okay. I may have embellished this story just a bit — but you get the point: these guys can be real shysters. Their “inspection” always “finds” a major problem that would easily wipe out almost anyone’s emergency fund — and I’m certain that’s what my huckster had in mind.

Reputable chimney sweeps typically charge between $75 and $150 for an inspection. Then, if necessary, additional sweeping costs will usually run an additional $75 – $200.

Here’s a list of eight other common home repair scams and some tips on how you can avoid them:


Termite treatment is typically required only when there is evidence of termites inside the house or close to the foundation, which is why any warnings about termites in wood piles or fences unconnected to your house can be taken with a grain of salt. Also watch for unscrupulous bug guys who try to pass off flying-ants as termites — so do a little research and understand the difference beforehand.


Another common ruse is perpetrated by roaming contractors who offer to seal your driveway — usually for a ridiculously low price — using leftover sealant from a local job they just finished around the corner. Instead, they’ll apply a cheap imitation that doesn’t seal at all and usually washes away after the first big storm. Speaking of big storms:


Traveling shysters will often follow natural disasters and look for vulnerable homeowners, offering to fix roofs at a discount. Other hustlers will try to assess your roof from the ground without a thorough examination, and then claim you need a whole new roof — even if all that needs to be replaced is the flashing, which is often the case. Shady roofers will also say you need to replace the the wood base beneath the shingles, known as the deck; in reality, it’s an expensive repair that is rarely needed.

Heating and Air Conditioning

Be wary of dubious repairmen who try to replace perfectly good parts with new ones, or replace bad parts with used ones that still work. You can protect yourself by making sure you ask to see all “broken” parts before they’re replaced — and then verify the packaging and documentation for any new parts before they’re installed.


Whether it needs it or not, deceitful contractors who are asked to rectify a damp basement will always recommend digging out your entire foundation and waterproofing it — a humongous task that can run $20,000 or more. In many instances, the problem can be easily fixed for far less by simply reducing moisture along your foundation. So rule out clogged gutters, errant lawn sprinklers, and improper land sloping first before calling anyone.


Watch out for problematic plumbers who try to up-sell services or cut corners in order to beef up their bottom line. Common ploys include recommending an expensive repiping job when a less-expensive rooter service is all that’s required, and using pipes that are insufficiently-sized or made of inferior metal or other material. Getting multiple estimates, and a list of all repair materials included in your contract helps avoid these scams.


There are vendors out there who offer expensive mold identification services, and then send you to a remediation company that’s in on the hustle. Here’s the thing: The CDC does not recommend testing for mold — in most cases it is totally irrelevant — and homeowners can easily clean small areas as well as any remediation company. All you need is bleach and water.


Fly-by-night painters will cut corners by doing very little prep work. Even worse, others will tell you they’re using a high-quality enamel when, in reality, they’re either watering it down — or using substandard paint in premium-brand cans. Although there are exceptions, at the start of the job you should check to ensure that any paint cans brought to your house are properly sealed.

The Bottom Line

Whether it’s a painter, plumber, roofer, or chimney sweep, contractors and handymen who are willing to do house repairs for significantly less than the competition are most likely going to cut corners that will end up costing you more in the long run. Trust me; I speak from experience.

So always be sure to get multiple estimates. And remember, like most things in life: If a deal sounds too good to be true, you can bet it probably is.

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