Are "Sting Homes" Fair?

Christina Lewellen
April 13, 2011
THE TALK...
I came across an interesting story this week coming out of New Jersey. State and consumer affairs organizations there decided enough was enough when it came to local home improvement contractors operating outside the realm of state laws and operating requirements.
Officials organized a “sting house” to solicit bids for various types of repair and improvement projects, calling to the carpet 18 contractors who submitted proposals for work without the proper registration documentation—which can only be issued with liability insurance, a permanent business address and other requirements.
The “sting house” was established in order to crack down on numerous consumer complaints of contractors cutting corners. In the article, however, some businesses that were cited note that their registration documentation was indeed in order, meaning they were incorrectly fined up to $5,000. Further, owners felt duped for spending time preparing a fake proposal for work.
I’d like to know what our industry thinks of this concept of a sting operation to crack down on illegally-operating home improvement contractors. Is it a way to raise the bar for all home improvement businesses—knowing they might get caught if they don't follow the rules? Or is it unfair to target contractors and waste their time during economically-challenging times?

Please send me an email or post a comment below. Let’s Talk about whether sting operations like this one in New Jersey would benefit the industry overall or create yet another challenge for window and door retailers?

 

Survey Results as of 04/19/2011:


I think "sting house" initiatives would:

Encourage greater compliance among home improvement companies.

  

 

45%

Create unnecessary burden for contractors and miss the mark in terms of impact.

  

 

29%

Have minimal impact in combatting illegal contractors.

  

 

26%

Though the results are split this week, I did get some great comments from the crowd, so I’ll jump right into those.
 
Even though a “sting house” may create extra work for legit contractors, some readers say it’s worth the hassle to attempt to put a stop to illegal business practices.
 
“I think it is a good idea if there is a problem with illicit contractors doing shoddy work in an area,” writes one reader. “The legitimate contractors could be screened early to save them from putting a lot of work into something that is bogus.  Something needs to be done about the situation.”
 
“A few years ago I presented and idea to a top dealers round table group that it is time to bring legitimacy to our business, and that it is amazing what today's customer will do if only we just let them instead of try to make them,” writes another reader. “The stings that are happening should make the legitimate dealers excited to get rid of the tricksters, scammers, etc. Honesty is the best policy and the scams are so obvious to today's buyers. Sell on your company and products merits, and close the same way.”
 
He concludes, “Let the stings continue.”
 
Another reader shares:
“It can only help the industry get rid of unprofessional and unqualified contractors. But the real problem lies in educating the consumer. Until the consumer understands the process, there are always going to be scam artists ready to take their money.”
 
 
I’ll also add one more comment I believe has a lot of merit. This one comes from Joe Klink of ProVia Door, who throws in a broader perspective of what manufacturers can do to support legitimate dealers in the marketplace:
“I found your story on sting houses to be fascinating. On the one hand, I understand why officials did the sting and can appreciate their desire to have the law abided by, and on the other hand I can appreciate the contractors’ point of view that this was an unfair waste of their time.
 
“However, let’s not forget the core reason this whole endeavor got started – many contractors aren’t obeying the law, are cutting corners that shouldn’t be cut, and it’s the homeowners who are paying for it. Regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong in this scenario I think it should be a wakeup call to contractors and manufacturers to make sure we are doing things the professional way.
 
“That’s why six years ago, ProVia Door started an installer certification program which has since graduated over 400 installers. We realized that there are a lot of good-intentioned, hardworking people who just want to earn an honest living, but don’t always understand the details of what it takes to complete a job professionally, and delight the homeowner completely.”
 

Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at clewellen@glass.org.

Comments

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My opinion of the "sting" concept would be to minimize inconveniencing of reputable professional remodelers by limiting bid invitations to only suspected violators 

I own a New Jersey replacement window company and have been doing this for 25 years. The so-called "sting-house" idea is foolish. Back prior to 2006 me and 6 others campaigned for licensing in New Jersey since Jersey had no licensing whatsoever. We argued for a licensing fee of $10,000.00, which we all believed would then be cut in half. But no, that did not happen. Instead the State Of New Jersey opted for the weakest requirements, requiring only $500,000 in liability insurance and $95.00 for the license fee. How is this protecting New Jersey homeowners? Secondly in your article someone mention it was the homeowners we need to educate. This statement is so true it isn't funny, and I mean it isn't funny. Many times homeowners buy price, they see nothing else but a low price and then get burned. Who’s fault is it now?

In my 25 years we have seen everything including a news story that made front page headlines in one of Jersey's largest newspapers. The headline read "Homeowner Scammed By Another Contractor".  As I read this headline story it mentioned the homeowner lost $6,000.00 of a $9000.00 contract. The contractor took a 1/3 down and another 1/3 when the vinyl siding showed up in their driveway two days later, the contractor was never seen again. As I got to the end of the article it mentioned the homeowners name, this rang a bell in my head. It turns out after checking our records we also gave these same homeowners an estimate, 32 squares of vinyl siding and 28 triple pane windows for $41,000.00. The article began to anger everyone in my company, yes we were sorry for the homeowner’s loss, however $9,000.00 would come no where near paying for just the material, let alone the entire job. Who really made the mistake, we ask you?

The article said the vinyl siding showed up in their driveway two days after signing the contract. Wait,…isn’t it law that there is a “Three Day Right of Cancelation” when homeowner’s purchase goods and services in their home from a contractor? There sure is, but these homeowners did not know this is our guess, who fault is that? There are laws protecting homeowners, but if the homeowner is not aware of such laws, who fault is it? Shouldn’t the State spend their limited resources doing public awareness campaigns and not on a silly “sting” operation for the weak laws the State created.

 

Yes, the Legiimate Contractors bid a job that was under the "Sting House" program &  wasted their time on  a project that never would go anywhere. On the other hand, how many jobs have they bid & lost, because of  the illegial business practices of a few.

Clean up a market & get it over with & move on using  fair business practices, this should be The American Way!

 

 

The DCA in NJ sometimes seems to be more of a "revenue generator" for the state than actually being there to protect the consumer.

When the law for this license was established, you would think that the state would try to get the word out about it. We only found out about the license during the course of placing a print ad in a local publication. The representative for the publication informed us that they needed our license number placed in the print ad per the new law. After checking with the state we found about the new regulation and immediately complied with obtaining the license.

I have been in contact with the DCA about many of their regulations such as lead safe installs in multifamily units (3 or more families in the same building) and never get a straight answer, or conflicting answer, and sometimes no answer at all.

IF the agency is there to protect the consumer, and to eliminate "shady" home rennovation companies, then I'm all for it. I just wish that they would use some of the monies collected to get their act together.

 

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