Information on Ohio's Consumer Laws from Attorney Daniel Myers, Myers Law, LLC, not legal advice
Contractor scams and rip-offs happen all the time in Ohio, especially in the Cleveland and Akron areas. Recently, ABC News 5’s Bob Jones ran a story about an asphalt company allegedly ripping off homeowners in the area. These asphalt contractors were going door-to-door to get homeowners to pay money and sign up for asphalt work.
When dealing with door-to-door sales people, it’s hard to know whether the company is legitimate or not, whether they do good work, whether they are selling an actual product or service, or whether they are scam artists trying to take your money. While there is a 3-day cancellation law in Ohio that protects homeowners from certain home solicitation sales, that doesn’t necessarily help you if the company or salesperson is a scam artists, or if the company doesn’t exist, or if the people spend the money elsewhere and run off.
Consumer protection attorney Dan Myers does two things, and suggests other do, too, to avoid the worst of door-to-door sales nightmares: Just Say No (at least at first), and Don’t Pay Upfront.
This article isn’t about victim blaming–not at all. Dan represents victims of these schemes all the time, and he is happy to take companies that violate Ohio’s consumer protection laws to task. This is a reminder about what to look out for, what to talk about with your family and friends (especially folks you know that have a hard time saying “no”), and warnings about potential problems in these sorts of sales.
While this advice might seem obvious to some folks who go through life being skeptical of everyone (like Dan is), clearly door-to-door sales are still a way for both illegitimate and legitimate companies to make money. In fact, it is still taught by some construction contractors and company owners as a viable way to market business and sell services. For example, Cleveland-area sales consultant Tony Hoty (of Window Depot / The Remodeling Group), teaches companies nationally how to make money with door-to-door sales, claiming on his website (www.tonyhoty.com/remodeling-consulting-services/canvassing-tips-for-remodeling-industry/), that they can learn “popular and affective techniques” to contractors for door-to-door sales.
With so many companies out there taking money from homeowners in high pressure door-to-door sales, and others out there teaching these companies how to be more effective (or “affective”) at getting that money, someone needs to teach consumers about how to avoid bad situations under high pressure, and educate them about the risks of these door-to-door sales.
We aren’t talking about candy bars, school fundraisers, or Girl Scouts Cookies. You can say yes to those. But when someone shows up at your door to sell you home repairs, you’ve had literally no time to research that company, and often no time to consider whether you even need the work done or the product they are selling. You also probably never got estimates from other contractors or providers. That means you have:
Additionally, some sales people engage in high-pressure sales tactics, and make many promises and representations about their services and products. But when (or if) a contract is put in your face, those promises and representations are often missing. That often (but not always) means those unwritten promises are fake, illusory, and not enforceable. It is as if they were never made.
This is a recipe for disaster. Just because someone is a smooth talker, or promises the world, doesn’t mean you are going to get it, or even that they have the authority to make those promises. That’s why Dan personally does not buy services or goods from door-to-door sales people (well, except Girl Scout Cookies, right?). Odds are if you need the service or product that bad, you (1) already know about it, and (2) you either decided you didn’t really need it, or you wanted to look into it further. It’s your house–you get to make the decision about what you need and when you need it. Not the salesman or saleswoman.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy anything from a company that goes door-to-door (although Dan personally does not). Some of these companies are legitimate. You can still buy from that company, but you should only do so after you personally investigate and research the things you need to know to make your own educated decision. If you don’t do the research on the company and the service, you are not making an educated decision.
Just as you wouldn’t get up in front of a crowded room of your friends, family, and co-workers, and say “I want to make an uneducated decision,” you should not actually make an uneducated decision. The best thing to do, to make sure you get all the information you need to make an informed, educated decision, is to say “no” at the time of the door-to-door solicitation, and then do your research.
Contact multiple companies to get multiple quotes and opinions about the work. Consider these other steps when contacting those other companies.
Dan says, “just say no,” at least initially, to the door-to-door solicitation. If later, upon reflection and research, you want to hire what you found out was a reputable company, you can do that. But don’t assume or trust a complete stranger who knocks on your door to get your money unless you’ve done your research.
TIP #2: Don’t Pay Upfront.
It’s possible that you recognize the company, and the salesperson, that shows up at your door. It’s possible you’ve already done the research, and know that you need this service or repair, and know the price is reasonable. It’s possible you’ve already done everything you need to do to make an educated decision. Still, Dan says, “don’t pay upfront.”
Paying upfront is dangerous. Paying half, one-third, or even 25% upfront is risky. The risk is you may never see the money again, and the work may never be done. They may keep the money or illegally keep you waiting for more than 8 weeks. They may ignore you and your concerns once they feel they have the money. They may not give you the proper receipt and then pretend like you never paid them. We’ve seen it all.
Only pay as much money upfront as you are willing to throw away or burn, because that is the risk you are running. Many good, reputable companies, that have good credit and substantial capital and assets to operate with, don’t need large deposits. Paying for a couple hundred dollars in paint up front for your painter is one thing, but paying thousands up front for work that isn’t even scheduled is another. Outside of suing the contractor later, what can you do to get the money back? Not much, especially if the contractor is ignoring you.
The contractor may tell you that you have to make a deposit payment that day, to either lock your spot in, or secure a discount only available on that day, or to get on the schedule. Maybe that’s true (or maybe it’s a dishonest, high pressure sales technique). It doesn’t matter. What good does a discount do you when the final product will need to be completed re-done, or when it is never delivered, at all? You can ask the tough questions like “explain to me why this discount goes away tomorrow if I don’t say yes today. How does this cost any more tomorrow than it does today?” Or better yet, don’t engage, and follow Tip #1.
To learn more about what you need to do before you make a deposit payment, check out this article.
I encourage you to read these tips, take them to heart, and share them with your friends, parents, children, and co-workers. Following these two tips will prevent harm from many scams, and help prevent some bad situations, even with reputable companies. If you or someone you know is the victim of a home solicitation sale gone bad, we encourage you to reach out to an attorney for help immediately.