Dana Stevens is an arborist and says that, when it comes  to dealing with contractors, she recommends that people  not pay anyone until the service is complete.

Dana Stevens is an arborist and says that, when it comes to dealing with contractors, she recommends that people not pay anyone until the service is complete.

Photo provided by Dana Stevens

Arborist, sheriffs share how to avoid spring scams

By: Alex Szwarc | Metro | Published May 12, 2021

METRO DETROIT — As the weather warms up, so do home improvement scams.

From offering prices that seem too good to be true, to schedules that seem vague about when the work will be completed, homeowners are sometimes left feeling skeptical about which contractors to use.

Dana Stevens has her own tree servicing company, Dana Stevens Arborist Inc., and she explained some reputable business practices that can give customers confidence that the work will be done well and completely.

“I’ve been in the industry for a long time and do what I say I’m going to do,” she said. “My customer service is very important to me, and I follow through with what I say.”

Stevens, based in Royal Oak, handles insect and disease management and lawn fertilizing in Oakland and Macomb counties.

“I get a big part of my work from customers’ recommendations,” she said.

Stevens mentioned that she senses that folks have become more skeptical about what contractors and service providers have to say.

“The biggest thing I recommend to people is to not pay anyone until the service is complete,” she said. “I hear so many times that someone cut a tree down, said they’ll be back the next day to get the wood, the customer pays and then they never come back.”

On large projects, Stevens won’t require payment until the job is finished. For work like lawn fertilizing, she offers prepaid discounts.

When it comes to providing estimates, Stevens said that if someone has a sick maple tree in the front yard, she’ll look at it, diagnose it and give a recommendation and proposal.

“If it’s serious enough, we’ll set up an appointment and meet with you to talk about your landscaping and what your yard needs,” she said.

Oftentimes, potential customers will ask Stevens what the project timeline is and what kind of equipment she’ll be using.

“For lawns, they’ll ask how soon will they start seeing a change,” she said. “For treating trees, they’ll ask when they will notice the change.”

Her advice on how to avoid being scammed is to not trust anyone who knocks on your door.

“Do your research and check out credentials,” she said. “Ask for references and always double-check they are insured.”    

In an April press release, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard reminded residents to be wary of home improvement scams as spring temperatures arrive.

The release notes that spring is the season that brings out nefarious scammers looking to prey on unsuspecting homeowners under the guise of offering various services such as driveway sealing or repair, home improvements, roof repairs, or tree trimming at what appears to be an unusually low price.

He explained how such scams often work.

“The would-be repair person, offering an unbelievable deal on the repair or service, asks for cash upfront under the guise of needing materials to complete the job and then either leaves and doesn’t come back or only partially finishes the job,” the press release notes, leaving the homeowner out the cash and the would-be repair person long gone.

In Macomb County, Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said that, in the spring, his office sees contractors, or those pretending to be contractors, coming to homes and soliciting business.

“They provide cheap or reasonable prices, but not using quality materials and following rules and codes,” he said. “We always say if someone is knocking at your door and says you need a new roof or gutters, you can thank them for advising you but do your own research.”

Some safety tips offered by Bouchard include being cautious when dealing with someone who offers a service that wasn’t requested; always asking for identification before opening the door, especially if you are not familiar with the company or the person; and not paying for tree-trimming work by individuals claiming to be from a utility contractor — Bouchard notes that utility line clearance work is done free of charge.

“What law enforcement usually gets into is, if they say they’re going to build a deck, you give them a deposit and they never show up, and if you can prove there is some criminal intent, we will open an investigation trying to identify the individual and seek charges,” Wickersham said.

Every now and then, Wickersham said, there are cases involving someone coming to a door pretending to be a contractor, asking the homeowner to check out a problem in the back of the home, and then the scam artist’s partner enters the home to grab valuables while the homeowner is distracted.

“Those are scams we’re more worried about,” he said. “If someone knocks at your door unsolicited, you can keep the door closed and tell them to leave. If they don’t, you can call the police.”

Wickersham reminds people that, if homeowners engage with an individual, the homeowners should be polite, close the door and do their own research into what contractors to hire.