Many seniors who own homes find themselves less able to make the repairs necessary to maintain them.
Home improvements have been and are a significant target for scammers. The most flagrant scammers are those who come to your door offering repairs for payment in advance. This type of scammer disappears with your money before doing anything. They often travel in groups, moving from one community to another. This variety of scammers have operated in Monterey County and have been prosecuted.
If a stranger comes to your door offering to do home repairs, you can be virtually certain you are being approached by a scammer. Never pay a stranger in advance for home improvements. Be careful of paying anyone in advance unless necessary to buy supplies. Even then it is sometimes wise to pay for the supplies directly.
A more subtle scam occurs when someone masquerading as in inspector knocks on your door. They may even wear official looking clothes, which can be obtained from thrift stores. They may claim to be from a public utility. They may want to enter your home to inspect. They may play on fear that some type of problem is threatening the safety of homes in the neighborhood.
They may enter the home and find a nonexistent problem and recommend a company to fix it. Someone may show up in an official-looking truck with official-looking tools and pretend to fix the nonexistent problem — for a fee, of course, payable upon completion of their mythical chore.
Offers for this kind of service may come from telephone calls or advertisements as well. The way to deflect this type of scam is to insist on knowing who the purported inspector represents and verifying the source by an independent inquiry, not by calling a number the stranger inspector offers you.
An honest, competent and trustworthy handyman is a true blessing. The challenge is finding one. There are plenty of them out there, particularly in these economic times. Working on someone's home is a personalized service and should be treated as such.
I need to emphasize that in this column I am talking about the type of handyman who is employed for an hourly wage and subject to some supervision, or at least the watchful eye of the owner. I am not talking about a general contractor retained to build a new structure or do a major remodel with structural changes under a construction contract. The standards for selection and overseeing are entirely different. I will discuss them in a later column.
Most seniors are in greater need of the handyman. However, some seniors want to build their dream home or do a major remodel in their golden years.
The advantage of hiring for an hourly rate is that the relationship can be terminated if it is not working out for either party. The ideal relationship is one of trust and confidence, which can develop into friendship. A skilled handyman who has pride in his workmanship likes being treated like a professional.
An owner needs to appreciate the handyman who is either doing something the owner cannot do or is doing his work more competently or efficiently. The best way to find this kind of person is by word of mouth, references or looking at other jobs the handyman has performed.
Home improvements are not an activity in which it is a good idea to experiment with fast-talking strangers, even if they offer what appears to be a good price.
Peter T. Hoss is a retired lawyer and an adviser to Legal Services for Seniors.