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Savvy Seniors: Hire Smart - Avoid Scams.

Going “green” has become more than trendy for homeowners and businesses--it is borderline necessary in order to be cost-efficient and competitive. Considering the vast benefits of investing in environmentally friendly practices in the built environment (cutting-costs, attracting employees, building a sustainable reputation) it is a no-brainer. Hopefully, one day it will be the norm.

When it comes to hiring any professional or contractor, it’s essential to make sure they’re qualified. Every state from California to New Jersey stresses the importance of working with professionals with valid licenses and credentials.  Why do we want to protect our properties and hire smart? As Washington State’s Department of Labor & Industries points out, “Unregistered contractors carry no bond or insurance to protect consumers. Consumers can face serious issues if anything goes wrong on a job.”

When it comes to the logistics, we flock to the experts. In order to go green, we need eco-experts to help with the transition. Contractors that are conscious of sustainability in the built environment have this specialized expertise and can be trusted to take care of the process… right?

It may be easy to spot a scam on the internet- spotting “too good to be true” deals, sketchy advertisements or promotions, or emails from an unknown email address. The Internet makes us hyper-attentive to the possibility of being ripped off because scams are so commonplace in this setting. What is less well known is the prevalence of home improvement scams. What’s more, with a whole new level of expertise that eco-professionals are demanded to have, the green movement can be exploited by contractors who claim to possess this specialized knowledge. For example, because the installation of solar is fairly new, people hiring an installer might not know if they are being charged an exorbitant amount or if installation is completely satisfactory.

The trend of home improvement scams can be exacerbated by natural disasters nationwide, when so many homes and buildings are in bad condition and the demand for work on properties is so high. Unlicensed and licensed contractors have been guilty of this behavior, costing individual victims thousands of dollars. Everyone is susceptible to these types of scams, however senior citizens are often sought out and targeted.

Given the frequency of these scams, departments of Consumer Affairs have established lists of red flags to look out for when hiring a contractor. Be wary of a worker who comes to the door offering to carry out a free inspection, or someone that offers to do a job with the leftover materials from working in the neighborhood. Demanding all cash, not giving an estimate, only P.O. Box business addresses, and avoiding a complete contract are all instances in which one should be cautious.

Each of these warning signs points to a common theme of the importance of verifying credentials and carrying out practices to ensure fairness and to get the best job done as possible. The following precautions have been stressed by numerous Consumer Affairs websites:

  1. When hiring a contractor, be sure to obtain 3-5 references. Asking a friend or neighbor for recommendations is suggested because they can refer someone who has completed satisfactory work.
  2. Search for estimates from more than one person to compare prices and gauge a reasonable and best cost for certain work.
  3. Check licenses and expiration dates. This information can also be found online through license verification systems which allow consumers to search for specific names and businesses.
  4. Insist on a complete and ratified contract, which is required for work over $500.
  5. Do not provide more than one third of the payment up front.
  6. Ask for the contractor's liability insurance policy, and verify the validity of the policy.

Long gone are the days of gentlemen agreements, or let’s shake on it contracts.  Too many frauds and scams have lost consumers millions of dollars.  Before hiring a professional or contractor verify credentials – it’s that important.

Transparency is fundamental.  When looking for an expert, review their credentials.  Unfortunately, every state and jurisdiction has a different way to lookup licenses; there is not a single method that works for all.  Several different bodies of government, like the Department of Labor or the Department of Consumer Affairs, administrate state licenses.  Leafkey.com digs in and crosses state lines.  It doesn’t matter which department or board manages a license or how hard it is to find, we find the license and verify the credibility of the Eco Expert. Leafkey Verified is a standard of professionalism. Most importantly, we’ve created one place to verify all credentials. 

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at whitney@leafkey.com, or info@leafkey.com.



Whitney Charbonneau