Home Depot Exposed – Gouging Customers for Remodeling Projects

For some people, the Home Depot brand is synonymous with Home Improvement. But in the last few months, at least in California, the once trusted brand has become associated with far less desirable words – “nightmare”, “horror story”, and now “fraud”.

Home Depot is being investigated by KNBC in Los Angeles for ripping off customers.

KNBC (NBC4 TV) reports that these allegations are backed up by statements from Home Depot insiders (former salespeople and subcontractors).

NBC4 has heard from customers in 22 states and from insiders from across the country, who have given NBC4 a paper trail of internal documents, suggesting the company overcharges customers on window and siding installations, kitchen remodels and on roofing jobs.
Joel Grover and Matt Goldberg, NBC4 TV

In October 2006 when the investigation started, KNBC’s focus was on service issues in California. Now, it’s gone all the way to outright fraud, with complaints from across the nation.

Home Depot’s response to this latest charge has been to apologize for the situation and promise to investigate. “We have no practice overcharging customers in any way, shape or form”.

It’s a fascinating, if unsettling, read. The video should be up later this morning.

Home Depot Investigation – Part 3 – Article and Video on NBC4 TV

Home Depot Investigation – Part 2

Home Depot Investigation – Part 1

Chick Picks – DIY Tools for Women

Did you know that women are the fastest growing segment in DIY Home Improvement retail sales? I found that quite surprising. Women also spend more when they go shopping for tools than men. Is that because we don’t know what we’re doing? Ha! Hardly. It’s because we want quality and do our research before we buy.

And what women have been buying in increasing numbers are Redback Tools. Redback makes tools for professionals but has also recently introduced a line of tools for women. According to the Aussie-based company’s recent survey, 80% of the people who bought their products in the last 6 months are female.

The first major product in the US market is the MaxiStrike hammer. Winner of the prestigious USA Dealers Pick Award for Outstanding New Item, the MaxiStrike has some innovative features that make it a great hammer, and a great hammer for women in particular.

Why choose the MaxiStrike:

  • more “strike” power than ordinary hammers
  • “maxi-access” – the ability to use the head of the hammer to reach over obstructions and deep into recesses
  • an extra hard head
  • an ergonomic, shock absorbing grip, and
  • twist and slip resistance.

According to the designer,

With a traditional hammer, you get overstrike and reverberation up your arm. My design eliminates a hell of a lot of that … And, because of the arc design, you can nail over, say a roof rafter or around a piece of piping. It eliminates the need to pull out a nail punch to finish it off.
Jake Tyson, president, designer and Australian-TV home-improvement personality

A slick new hammer isn’t going to get me anywhere near a roof rafter. But if it makes hammering jobs more comfortable and convenient, count me in.

MaxiStrike models cost between $16.49 and $29.99 and are available from big box stores and Amazon.com.

Texas to get tough on Home Improvement Contractor Fraud

New legislation has been introduced to overhaul the Texas Residential Construction Commission. Bill 1686 is designed to give more protection to homeowners and seniors in particular.

The bill highlights:

  • all home builders to be registered with the TRCC
  • all home improvement contractors doing work over $2500 to be registered
  • free TRCC complaint process for homeowners
  • criminal charges can be laid against offending contractors
  • establishment of a recovery fund to help provide relief from certain types of damages
  • much more …

From a statement released by the Texas House of Representatives:

There are many reputable builders and remodeling contractors who do a good job on home improvement projects. For those who don’t, we’re putting some teeth in the law so that homeowners will be protected … There have been too many horror stories of contractors who have taken money from elderly homeowners and left the job half-done, or not done at all. This Bill would put a stop to that kind of scam.
State Representative Ruth Jones McClendon (District 120, San Antonio)

Read the actual Bill (PDF).

Rep. McClendon’s Press Release.

Detailed report on HomeOwners for Better Building, a consumer action site.

Deconstructing Green – Recycle your entire Home

Interesting news story profiling the ReStore Home Improvement Center in Springfield MA. Instead of demolishing your old home and having the content dragged off to landfills, you can “donate” it to this non-profit company. ReStore will send workers to “deconstruct” your old home, taking it apart piece by piece. The material taken from the home – windows, doors, flooring, bathroom fixtures, whatever can be reused – will be sold by ReStore at its retail location. Very cool.

Read Recycling Whole Homes at the Patriot Ledger.

DIY Part 1 – Do it yourself or hire a contractor?

Do it yourself (DIY) Home Improvement is on the rise. Part of this has always been about saving money. But in recent years, I think the trend has also been fueled by the media (TV), better tools, and better access to how-to information (internet, big box seminars).

DIY success depends on a lot of things, the most important being knowing your limitations. Remember, you may be replacing a professional contractor who brings knowledge, skill, experience, planning, project management, the right tools and the right materials to the job. It’s best to do a thorough evaluation before going ahead with your DIY project.

#1 – Research – Do you have the Skills?

What does the project involve? It’s important to “do your research” before getting started. Read books and articles on the internet. Talk to friends and acquaintances who’ve done it before. Or consult a professional. Write out the steps involved. Then you can better ask …

Do you have the required skill? Do you understand all the legal stuff? Building codes? Electrical code? Can you acquire the knowledge needed to cover any gaps?

What are the risks? Do you understand what could go wrong? Do you have a backup? Or resource to ask for help?

If not, you should hire a contractor or try something a little less ambitious that you can pull off to start.

If on the other hand you think you can pull it off, you should still look at …

#2 – Cost – Will DIY Pay Off?

When it comes to cost, the point of doing it yourself is to save money.

Although contractors can often get products and materials at lower cost, that may not amount to a significant reason not to do it yourself. When it comes to tools, you may be able to rent or borrow what you don’t have if it’s not feasible to buy so that shouldn’t be a barrier either.

What’s going to cost you when doing it yourself is mistakes, especially if a professional needs to come in to correct it after the fact. That will blow your labor savings and then some, so you need to be sure you can execute flawlessly.

If you know you don’t have all the skills to execute the full job, it may be possible to still participate in the project by doing some of the prep work or cleanup to help defray the costs. This should be discussed with your contractor up front.

Another option is to act as your own general contractor, hiring subcontractors to do the work directly. Again, you should only take this on if you know what you’re doing, or rather understand what your subcontractors will be doing … So it comes back to having the knowledge, skills, and experience.

But money isn’t everything …

# 3 – Options – Your Time Is Valuable Too

How much labor is involved? Doing all the research, purchasing, and actual project work will add up. How long will it take for you to do it yourself part time? Are you a patient person? Will you have to forgo some other opportunity?

If it’s going to take you 3 months of weekends and the house in chaos, it might be quicker and cheaper to have a professional do it in a fraction of the time.

On the other hand, if you have the time, can do it right, and will enjoy the work, it may not be work at all. And all the satisfaction of a job well done will be yours.

Do it yourself or hire a contractor: it’s best to consider all the factors before making a decision.

Fingerprint Locks – Are They Worth It?

The other day we looked at the “bump key” threat and the higher security locks you can buy to combat the problem. But what if you wanted to take your home security to the next level? To stop the determined professional thief? Are the new biometric fingerprint locks the answer? Hmmmm …

KwikSet SmartScan, as profiled on The Arizona Republic

Certainly they offer certain practical advantages over conventional locks. Firstly, you shouldn’t be able to lose your key because it’s, like, um, permanently attached to your hand.

They’re also programmable, allowing you to control access your home by different people at different times of the day; the ordinary lock is “all or nothing”. I can see how a fingerprint lock could have prevented this incident where a troubled bathroom remodeling contractor used the housekey given to him to vandalize a vacationing customer’s home, doing more than $200,000 in damage.

But how well do they work? As with anything, it depends on the quality and manufacturer. This first in-depth review I came across on The Gadgeteer was not positive; missing or sketchy instructions, installation issues, and fingerprint registration issues were a problem. Basically the testers found it too unreliable to use day to day.

On the other hand, the reviews on the sites selling these products are generally very positive and sound like they come from real customers … but don’t offer much of an in-depth assessment. Epinions had some reviews but only on 1 brand / model which always makes me wonder …

The bottom line with fingerprint locks, more so than other locks, is that “you get what you pay for”. If you choose a better quality (i.e. $$$) fingerprint lock, you will get better and more reliable performance.

So they work. Good. But are they more secure, in and of themselves? Are they really burglar proof?

Manufacturers say yes. But the MythBusters say no. Watch and learn people.

Watch on YouTube if doesn’t load below.

So it seems that if someone can get your fingerprint, they can also get into your house.
And where could they get one of those? Um, the scan pad maybe? To be fair, swiping fingerprints requires some skill but the “determined professional thief” should have no problem there …

The takeaway from all this is that if you need a fingerprint lock, the reason probably has more to do with the other features – the convenience, the programmability – and not just security alone. As with any home security measure, it needs to be used in conjunction with other secondary measures. “Bumping” a lock isn’t going to work out for an intruder if you’ve also got an alarm system. The same applies here.

Solar Power for your Hot Tub

Thinking about green or alternative energy and looking for “doable” ways to start? Check out Home Improvement Ideas’s post Heat Your Hot Tub with Solar Power.

IdealBite.com – Going Green, one step at a time

Going green is hard work. It’s takes longer to to decide what to buy. You have to research everything and make a lot tough choices you may not be entirely happy with. Who has the time and the mental energy?

Enter www.idealbite.com, a site that makes going green easy, convenient, and fun. The philosophy is simple; small changes, done by many, add up to big results. The Daily Bite comes to your inbox every day, presenting 1 helpful green idea at a time you can try, complete with all the practical and environmental benefits, where to buy, and links to get you started. The tips can run the gamut from easy changes like choosing reusable chopsticks to save trees to putting a baby windmill on your rooftop as a clean,renewable energy source. Love it! You can also browse the website for tips from past newsletters in areas that interest you or visit the Marketplace where you can purchase eco-friendly products directly online.

Intrigued? Visit IdealBite.com to subscribe.

Deadbolts Not Secure From ‘Bump keys’

Bump Key vs. Regular Key as seen on NBC TV

Remember the good old days when you could leave home, flip the deadbolt and think “my home is (relatively) secure”? Well those days are gone – the trusty deadbolt has met it’s match in the ‘bump key’.

It used to be you had to be an expert to pick most locks – it took practice and technique. No longer. With the right tools and access to the internet, a 12 year old can learn to get through most locks in as little as 15 minutes.

Although bump keys are not new (a long time locksmith “trade secret”), they’ve only recently been gaining attention in North America – through “how-to” videos posted on YouTube.

Holy **** Batman, guess it’s time to get new locks. So what kind of locks can be bumped? And what kinds of locks are “bump-proof”? What will take you back to “relatively secure”, at least from roving 12 year olds?

For starters, don’t get anything with a “conventional pin tumbler lock”. This is what most of us already have on our front doors, the type of lock that can typically be bumped. Not every last one, but most of them, statistically speaking.

A “bump-proof” lock is a “high security” lock that has a secondary locking mechanism as insurance. Who makes these? Well there’s the Schlage Primus. And a line of locks & hardware from Medeco.

Primus vs. Medeco – what do the experts think?

The design of the key is one of the critical differences between Primus and Medeco. Whereas Primus separates the functions of the sidebar from its traditional pin tumbler mechanism, Medeco does not and integrates the two. In my view, Primus offers a higher level of security against bumping, but Medeco is more secure against picking.
Marc Weber Tobias on Engadget

As my goals are modest (safe from the roving 12 year old as opposed to the determined professional thief), either one will do :) .

The Current State of Home Improvement Scams

“… fraud is nothing more than the skin of the truth stuffed with a lie.”
Elliot Minkman, reformed con man

Here are a few current Home Improvement scams to be aware of and obviously avoid.

The Home Improvement Grant Scam. You are notified by mail that you are eligible to receive a Federal Grant for home improvement, medical bills, or other expense – the first installment cheque may even be included. Or perhaps you see an ad for such a grant in a local newspaper. All you have to do is call the 1-800 number to claim the grant, it’s “free” to apply. Once you get on the phone and start giving your information (including license and social security numbers, even account numbers for financial institutions), you acquire extra “service charges and handling fees”. No matter what the pitch, the goal is to get you to pay that “one time” handling fee

Sounds too good to be true. So why do people get taken in? I see two factors. First, the pose as a “government representative” causes people to drop their guard. Government rep = credible authority figure. More importantly, it’s the lure of “free money from the government”. We’ve all heard about it, so that’s the “truth” that makes the lie persuasive.

The Federal Trade Commission issued an alert on this late last year. You can read more on combating such scams on the FTC website – Free Government Grants: Don’t Take Them For Grant-ed.

Home Improvement Contractor Scams. Seniors are often the target of these “door to door” scams. Professional scam artists (as opposed to real, hardworking contractors) may knock on your door offering to do repairs that may or may not need to be done. They may offer to fix or redo your driveway for a substantial fee but actually only paint it black and leave. Or arrange to do a roof repair, take a deposit, never to return.

They can seem very convincing. In one “worst case” news report, the scam artists posing as roofers went so far as scale the roof to bring down a shingle to prove to the 80 year old prospect that the roof needed repair. So she trusted them, let them inside … only to be robbed at gunpoint.

Obviously all the usual “rules” about hiring contractors should apply. So why are seniors more vulnerable? There’s a lot of information on this topic … and it may all be relevant. But at the bottom of it all, I think it’s because the average senior may not be able to physically do as much as he or she used to. In that way, seniors can be more dependent on help from other people and good help is hard to find. When it shows up at your front door, well why not??

Read more about how to complain if you are the target of home improvement or other fraud.

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