You might hear this pitch on TV, get a solicitation through junk mail, or find the offer on a flyer left on your windshield. You take the bait, and after a considerable amount of poking around, particularly in areas that you can’t see—on the roof, inside the chimney, in ductwork, in crawl spaces—the guy gives you his diagnosis: You’ve got big problems. And if you don’t hire me to fix them right away, they’re going to get worse.
How Not to Get Taken: A contractor who’s on the level rarely offers something for nothing, nor will he use scare tactics to drum up business, says Charles Greaves of Contractorposse.com, which posts consumer complaints about contractors. If you can’t tag along with the guy during his inspection and see for yourself, ask for pictures of the damage and an explanation of exactly what’s wrong. Then get a second opinion. And never pay in cash. Make checks out to the contractor’s firm so you have an audit trail or, if possible, choose one of the increasing number of tradespeople who take credit cards. “This allows you to withhold payment if the job isn’t completed satisfactorily,” says Greaves.