Could a Home Improvement Scam Cost You $1,400? How to Stay Safe

Get-rich-quick schemes, phishing, rubber checks or money orders … odds are you’re hip to these con games and know to steer clear. Yet according to the Better Business Bureau’s Risk Index—an analysis of the scams consumers fall for—the greatest danger of a shakedown could actually be lurking in your home improvement projects.

In 2016, over 32,000 scams were reported to the BBB, which deemed scams surrounding home improvement the biggest risk based on three (unfortunate) criteria: how likely consumers are to be exposed to a con, how likely they are to lose money, and how much money they lose. Apparently, victims of shady contractors, painters, and other repairmen are bilked an average of $1,400.

This typically takes the form of servicemen giving lowball bids, then demanding more money later, or using someone else’s license to take your money and run. Don’t want to be a victim? Here’s how to protect yourself.

Check contractor’s license, insurance, and references

Even if your contractor was recommended to you by a friend or family member, make sure the contractor has a valid license.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for their license numbers upfront,” says Cedric Stewart, a real estate consultant at Keller Williams, in the Washington, DC, area. “Some states have online databases where you can check the license status.”

A Google search for “check contractor license in [your state]” should point you in the direction of a website that allows you to input your prospective contractor’s license number to make sure it’s up to date.

You should also, without hesitation, ask for at least three, if not more, references.

“Scammers usually have a couple projects that went well in the past, and they will use them repeatedly as references,” says former general contractor Sam Medicraft.

Make sure the contractor is affiliated and active

Jonathan Weinberg, founder and CEO of Builder Prime, a software service that helps contractors grow their business, recommends that consumers do a quick search (either online or by inquiring the contractor directly) to see if the contractor is a member of reputable organizations such as theNational Association of the Remodeling Industry or the National Kitchen and Bath Association.

“This is another indication that the contractor you are hiring is reputable as they will need to pass a level of scrutiny and pledge to observe a code of ethics in order to be a member of one of these organizations,” he says.

While you’re at it, check out the vendor’s online presence.

“Do they have a good website and active social media? That’s a good sign,” says Medicraft. “Most scammers want to disappear, so they leave as few traces online as possible.”

What to do if you suspect you were scammed

After placing your faith in someone to complete the job, it’s an unsettling feeling when you realize they might not have done everything you agreed upon. Where can you turn?

In these situations, Jody Costello, founder of contractorsfromhell.com and creator of the Home Remodeling Bootcamp for Women, recommends that you file a complaint with your state Contractors License Board or Consumer Protection Agency, as well as the BBB. But she cautions that restitution is slow and relief might not be what you’d hoped for.

All of this means it really pays to do your homework upfront before that handyman is even hired.

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Decatur-area real estate is a buyer’s market in need of buyers

DECATUR — Wendy King has been flipping houses in Decatur for more than 15 years — a long time in a difficult field.

She’s living in one of her current homes for sale, a yellow ranch on the West End. It’s been sitting on the market for a couple months, and King said it’s not getting the attention she had hoped.

“I thought I knew what people were looking for — try do to neutral (themes), make it appealing, not buy in the high-end market,” she said.

King said she didn’t know the answer. “How do we make this market better? How do we make the young professional want to put down roots here, buy a house, and contribute to this community?”

That’s the question for many communities like Decatur that are continuing to see a decline in population and job opportunities.

The latest figures show a stable, mostly unchanged market from recent years. King said it’s not all doom and gloom, and the numbers bear that out. Home prices in the Decatur area are mostly holding their value — not really going up or down.

Data from the Decatur Association of Realtors show last month’s average sale price was $110,000, almost exactly the area’s two-year average.

“There hasn’t been a large amount of inflation or appreciation, but the decreases seemed to stop, and they’ve kind of maintained their value,” said Gray Richardson, senior vice president at Soy Capital Bank and Trust.

Sales data show a very quiet high-end market, but faster-than-normal sales on homes below $40,000, which suggests more investors buying with cash. Realtors said homes in Mount Zion and Forsyth sell fastest.

“It’s just a desired area. Mount Zion just spent $95 million on their school. They got that big gym out there and the turf football field,” said Tom Brinkoetter, general manager of Brinkeotter Realtors.

Even the hotter ends of the area’s market are still well below state averages. Illinois Realtors Association data show the median sale price last April was $210,000 in Illinois.

But other Central Illinois markets like Springfield and Bloomington show home values closer to Decatur.

Mortgage lenders and real estate observers sayDecatur really is a good place to buy a house.

“On the affordability index, we’re right up there. It’s honestly a great time to buy,” Brinkoetter said. “Interest rates are low, still in the 4 percent range. You can buy a home cheaper than you can rent in a lot of cases,” he said.

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Wendy King arranged for new ceramic tiles and countertops installed in the bathroom at 1469 W. Riverview Street as part of renovations made before selling the house.

The Federal Reserve just raised its interest rates for the second time this year, but they are still historically low.

Realtors said they are seeing a growing number of young families and first-time buyers take advantage of climate that favors them. “The young family just starting out is the big part of our sector,” Brinkoetter said.

But perhaps not enough to boost demand. Brinkoetter said the Decatur market mostly consists of people already living here.

“It’s people moving up, and people moving back down. It’s not an outside-in; it’s purely a local market,” he said.

Many home buyers in Decatur right now are investors, according to Glenda Williamson of Glenda Williamson Realty. Retirees or families who already own homes looking to stash any extra cash in a reliable investment.

“They can make more money on their money than if they put it in the stock market a lot of the time,” Williamson said.

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Wendy King had a new deck built as part of renovations made to the home at 1469 W. Riverview Street in preparations to sell it.

Williamson said in the last two years, about a third of her sales have been in cash — no mortgage whatsoever, which means a lot of investors looking to find a tenant.

But acting as a landlord can be more work and a higher risk than many realize, King said.

Back at her recently renovated home, half-furnished, and waiting for a new owner, King is still holding out hope for the next generation.

“It’s still the great American dream to own your home; it’s still what everyone wants to do,” Williamson said.

REAL ESTATE TRANSACTIONS

Pulaski County real estate transactions of $150,000 or more; deeds recorded May 15-May 19:

HK Value LLC to Capital Group Investors LLC, 603 W. Capitol Ave., Little Rock. Ls9-12 B123, Original City Of Little Rock, $700,000.

David H. and Barbara L. Pryor to William and Theresa McClung, 1620 N. Jackson St, Little Rock, L76, Cliffewood, $578,000.

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Sherrill E. Wise to Avinash Bhavaraju, L13, Edgerstoune Lane, $550,000.

Daryl E. Coker and The Daryl E. Coker Trust to Casey Carpenter and Robert T. Love III, 35 Bretagne Circle, Little Rock, L12 B11, Chenal Valley, $528,000.

Rodney H. and Amber McCarver to Gerald M. and Lindsay R. Heulitt, 104 Cove Creek Court, Little Rock, L27 B19, Woodlands Edge, $463,000.

W I Properties LLC to Brandon S. and Enid C. Olvey, 400 Miramar Blvd., Little Rock, L14 B110, Chenal Valley, $458,473.

James H. Price and Love Construction to Robert M. and Sarah T. Cearley, 8 Rosans Drive, Little Rock. L18 B77, Chenal Valley, $442,000.

Alexander H. Spillers and Jeannine L. and Mark W. Mathis to Frank M. Bauer III, L6, Kinkead-Dunn And Mainard, $400,000.

Catherine M. Matthews and The Catherine R. Matthews Irrevocable Trust to Joseph A. Sanford, Ls34-35, Shadowlawn, $399,000.

Richard Harp Homes Longlea Drive LLC to John and Colleen Engskov, 6 Longlea Drive, Little Rock. L189, Longlea II, $391,500.

Werner and Sharon Schneider to Melinda C. and James E. Arbuckle Sr., 216 Chalamont Lane, Little Rock, L3 B73, Chenal Valley, $350,000.

Menco Construction LLC to Eric Bonnes and Brittany Axford, 8700 Trail Creek Drive, Sherwood. L41 B4, Creekside, $310,200.

Baxter D. and Allison L. Drennon to Yong and HanahPark, L16, Forest Valley, $308,000.

Summerwood Inc. to Derrick Blake, 1623 Village Lake Drive, Little Rock, L55R, Kanis Village Phase I Replat, $302,321.

Patrick J. and Tonya R. Lovelace to Mark D. and Sarah M. Wankum, 104 Fork River Road, Sherwood, L22 B23, Overbrook, $301,000.

Phil E. Matthews and The Brenda L. Matthews Revocable Trust to Amy L. Hall, 107 Manitou Drive, Maumelle, L71, Osage Falls, $295,000.

Shawn O’Dell Construction Inc. to Anthony L. Flowers, 68 Oakbrooke Drive, Sherwood, L12 B1, Millers Cove, $290,000.

Tommy Scott Construction LLC to Mitchell L. and Olivia E. Zimmerman, 58 Oakbrooke Drive, Sherwood, L17 B1, Millers Cove, $287,000.

E. Ward Construction Inc. to Bilal and Ankita T. Mahbub, 11 Bishop Place, Little Rock, L5, Bishop Place, $284,500.

Larry K. and Jacalyn A. Romey to Thomas D. and Dawn Y. Williamson, L41 & L40, Cedar Acres Unrecorded; Pt NE NE 22 & Pt NW NW 23-4N-11W, $280,000.

Roxana Whitner and The Roxana Elizabeth Harsh Whitner Revocable Trust to William G. Allen III, 5 Chalmette Court, Little Rock, L257, St. Charles, $277,000.

Kathryn K. Blair and Charles R. Blair (deceased) to Angela Langston and Nathan E. Langston and Carolyn A. Langston, L51 B20, Indian Hills, $274,000.

John E. and Shannon M. Bailey (aka Shannon M. Measel) to Gregory W. Armstrong, 5123 C St., Little Rock, L1 B3, Pfeifer, $260,000.

Marion J. Sims to Darrell W. and Viola S. Tucker, L3, Bishop Place, $260,000.

Joel Stephens to Mark and Kelli Granberry, L6 B2, Crystal Court, $259,000.

Louis E. and Martha K. Williams to Mark A. Leavitt, 9109 Meadow Gardens Circle, Sherwood, L27, Millers Glen, $257,000.

Nicole Capri to Michael B. and Emily T. Allen, 5812 C St., Little Rock, Lot A, Edgemere Park, $255,000.

Larry D. Holifield and Phyllis Ann Holifield (deceased) to Brenda Stroud and Norma Mott, L278, Leawood Heights 4th, $255,000.

John and; Allison B. Allen to Marilyn J. and Robert Peoples, Jr., L54 B1, Maumelle Valley Estates, $252,500.

BLG Holdings LLC to Jeffrey L. and Kathryn F. Pyle, 17605 Crystal Valley Road, Little Rock, NE SE 25-1N-14W, $250,000.

Ranch West Villas LLC to Amber Pashon, 416 Valley Ranch Circle, Little Rock, L8, Ranch West Villas, $245,900.

Jacob and Laura M. Thomas to Brian Langford, 416 N. Pine St., Little Rock, L3 B1, Riffel & Rhoton’s Ridgeland, $242,500.

Savvy Investment Properties 401K Trust and Carl Caple to Cameron and Emily Beckett, 85 Indian Trail, Little Rock, L503, Kingwood Place, $239,900.

Pamela D. King to Sarah King, 6401 Longwood Road, Cammack Village, L26, Cammack Woods, $239,000.

Rebecca Pulla (aka Rebeca Young) to Jeff Fuller Homes LLC, 2921 N. University Ave., Little Rock, L2 B12, Park View, $235,000.

Micah S. and Ashley N. Marsh to Lindsey A. Bailey and Nicholas L. French, 6807 Shamrock Drive, Little Rock, L38, Shannon Hills East, $230,000.

Pamela Pittman-Robles to Tatiana and Michael Parker, L265, Capitol Lakes Estates Phase 1B, $230,000.

Howard Development Group LLC to Chrystal N. London, 26 Marchwood Cove, Little Rock, L21 B1, Sienna Lake, $228,000.

Benjamin E. Fischl to Vanessa Jordan, 204 Bucky Beaver St., Jacksonville, L326, Northlake Phase VIII, $215,000.

BLG Holdings LLC to Jeffrey L. and Kathryn F. Pyle, NW SE 25-1N-14W, $215,000.

Daniel Scott Construction LLC to Linda L. Siems, 9201 Meadow Garders Circle, Sherwood, L21, Millers Glen, $214,900.

Wayne Moore Construction Co. to Tullis Enterprises LLC, L17B, Mountain Terrace Estates Townhomes Phase I, $213,882.

Kyle D. and Melissa J. Ross to Brady Chambers, 13610 Abinger Drive, Little Rock, L20, Hillsborough Phase I, $209,000.

Andrew and Melissa Popham to Ashley N. and Jerry D. McDowell Jr., 1601 Winbourne Drive, North Little Rock, L24 B5, Summerwood, $200,000.

Lisa M. and Charles R. Breedlove to Claudia C. and Lawrence L. Deakin, Sr., 7512 Eagle Point Drive, North Little Rock, L12 B62, Indian Hills, $190,000.

Leslie H. Vickery and William C. Vickery Jr. (deceased) to Kenneth and Kathy Rich, 12509 Colleen Drive, Little Rock, L196, Marlowe Manor Phase II, $190,000.

David and Ann Lyp to David and Caroline Rieger, 2 Poygras Drive, Little Rock, L106, St. Charles, $177,000.

Chris and Amy B. Flickinger to Timothy and Kimberly Stain, 293 Plainview Circle, North Little Rock, L47 B1, Park Hill NLR, $175,000.

Joe and Michele Quiles to SAX Homes LLC, 12815 Saint Charles, Little Rock, L50, St. Charles, $175,000.

Jonathan and April Vanhorn to Jennifer A. Ballinger, 1810 Martha Drive, Little Rock, L225, Marlowe Manor Phase III, $175,000.

Nationstar Mortgage LLC and Champion Mortgage Co. to Nationstar Mortgage LLC and Champion Mortgage Co., 3612 Lakeview Road, North Little Rock, L21 B203, Park Hill NLR, $173,543.

Rausch Coleman Mid-Ark LLC to Timothy and Mary Moore, 5601 Willow Way, North Little Rock, L521, Trammel Estates Phase IV, $172,614.

Central Rock Properties LLC to Angela Rogers Group LLC, 400 Rice St., Little Rock, Lot B B12, Capitol View; Ls6-7 B29, Capitol Hill Extension, $172,000.

Michael L. and Rachael A. Rowe to Jerry D. and Tiffany M. Wilson, 16408 Whippoorwill Lane, Little Rock, L11, Crystal Valley Unrecorded, $172,000.

Ashley E. Dillahunty (aka Ashley E. Weathersby) to Lauren E. Requena, 27 Markham Place Circle, Little Rock, L25 B4, Parkway Place, $169,000.

Monique Raines and The J. R. Bearden & Evelyn Bearden Revocable Trust to John Worsham, 1400 Biscayne Drive, Little Rock, L87, Leawood Manor 1st, $166,000.

Jason A. Duren to Amy E. Wisniewski, 400 S. Martin St., Little Rock, L1 B6, C. H. Taylor, $157,000.

Rich Homes Inc. to Alandis Newman, L4R, St. James Place Phase I Replat- Brown, $155,400.

Lynn R. Narkinsky and The Derwood L. Johnson Family Trust, to Richard L. and Elizabeth A. Avey and The Richard & Ann Avey Revocable Trust, 205 Beaconsfield Road, Sherwood, L7 B1, East Meadow, $155,000.

Drew A. and Victoria Garrison to Emily and Michael Falkoff, 7405 Oak Ridge Road, North Little Rock, L1 B62, Indian Hills, $150,000.