This is the time of year when it's not uncommon to find a slightly sweaty guy at your front door, claiming he is in your neighborhood paving and repairing several driveways.
Because he has workers and equipment nearby and ready to go, he says, he can offer you a big discount and quick work if you sign up now and pay a deposit upfront. Unfortunately, the quick work may consist of the guy disappearing with your money, never to be seen again.
If you're a little bit lucky, or perhaps a little bit unlucky, the guy and his helpers will slap some sealant on your driveway and get out of town before you have a chance to examine their work.
In either case, chances are good you'll have a hard time tracking him down and getting a refund or at least a touch-up.
Avoiding driveway paving scams
How to avoid this very common scam? The most obvious answer is to never do business with anyone who shows up unannounced. Reputable businesses don't go door-to-door seeking work.
It's always best to seek out local contractors who have local phone numbers, trucks with their name painted on them, websites and other signs that they are at least a somewhat stable business.
A quick visit to your favorite search engine will get you several candidates. You can then check review sites to see what other consumers have to say about them. Be wary of these sites, however. Businesses have gotten very good at flooding them with positive reviews, many of questionable veracity.
Another thing to watch out for: Many businesses are now practicing the equivalent of telephone spoofing. They're setting up websites that make it look like they're local. One business may have a batch of sites with names like Smithtown Paving, Hoovertown Paving, Fuddtown Paving and so forth, when in reality they're not really located in any of those places.
It's also a good idea to check your local chamber of commerce to find out if the prospective paver is a member. You can do this online in a few minutes in most cities. You can also check with the city or county clerk to see if the business is properly licensed.
A few simple steps to a smooth driveway
Once you have found a couple of candidates, call them up or email them and ask them to come and look at your driveway and give you a bid. Find one you like? Good. Follow these steps to be sure everything comes out smoothly:
- Get everything in writing and don't pay more than a small deposit in advance.
- Get a clear understanding of how final payment will be made. Credit card is best since it gives you a way to contest the payment if the work is not satisfactory.
- If you want to pay by check, get an understanding upfront about who the check will be made out to. It should be payable to the company doing the work, not to the contractor's sister, Blanche Pathos, or any other individual. Paying an individual potentially makes you a party to tax fraud.
A driveway project can be expensive, running into many thousands of dollars if you are doing a complete rebuild. Or it can be just a few hundred for seasonal sealing or a few thousand for putting a new layer of asphalt on top of what's already there.
By the way, simply slapping down more asphalt is quick and easy but it's not a longterm solution. Asphalt payments deteriorate over time and you will periodically need to dig the whole thing up and start over.
An alternative? It's called gravel. A gravel driveway takes much less maintenance, doesn't splash petroleum products all over your lawn and gives you better traction when it's wet. You can also do stone or concrete pavers, of course, but this is overkill for most homeowners.