Contractor or Conman?: Material Fraud


Sub-standard materials used in renovation can lead to disasters such as this one

You’ve installed fittings that were promised to be of the finest quality and cost a bomb to match, but after some time, you realize that these materials aren’t really worth the price you paid.

Chances are that you’ve fallen for one of the oldest tricks in the book; something we like to call Material Fraud.

There’re a couple of areas a shady contractor can rip you off on when it comes to the costs of building materials: quality and quantity.

“I Spent Thousands On This Crap?!”

Some contractors swap building materials for cheaper alternatives mid-project behind your back and charge you the same price for the originally agreed high-quality material.

A common example of cheating on material quality is with the quality of doors installed. What you’ve been promised to be a door made out of solid wood might actually be a cheaper plywood door, sometimes even complete with trimmings to make it look like the real deal. This sly substitution may have you paying hundreds of dollars more than you should have if the contractor bills for you the cost of a solid wood door.

Other less easily exposed examples include contractors promising that they’ll only use high-quality marble from Italy for your flooring, but instead swapping the quality stone for less prestigious stocks from China or Indonesia.

Quality Assurance

As a homeowner, you need to be pro-active in the selection and confirmation of material in your renovation work. Do your homework on the raw materials used; find out prices, distinguishing qualities and benefits.

Fickle-mindedness also plays a part in skyrocketing bills. After doing your homework, be specific, decisive and know exactly what materials you want to be used. If you should make changes along the way, it will cost you dearly.

Sample Boards like this one ensure the constancy of building material

Sample Boards like this one ensure the constancy of building material

Get the contractor to produce a material sample board. Once you’ve ensured that all the materials are of the quality you want, initial on all the samples on the contractor’s copy to ensure that none of the samples are swapped. 

Keep a copy for yourself and bring it along to every meeting for reference until the project is completed.

Final products often look very different from the raw materials used to make them. To avoid any rude shocks, ask to see a mock-up of any item you’re installing made in the material you asked for. Insist that it be free of charge.

For example, if the contractor were to be installing a built-in kitchen cabinet, ask to see a free mock-up sample of your kitchen cabinet door.

As the untrained eye can hardly tell the difference between quality material and sub-standard material, it’s also a worthy investment to engage a credible consultant trained in the fields of Architecture or Interior Design to do quality checks on your renovation process.

Pay For What You Use

It may be within reason for a contractor to minimally markup the costs of indented materials. But there’re also cases of contractors who order more than the sufficient amount of material needed for your renovation work and charging you for the full order.

More often than not, the excess material that you paid for is never even brought to your site but is kept by the contractor for use in other projects instead.

To prevent this from happening to you, always ask for a proof of purchase from the supplier whenever the contractor demands immediate compensation for indented materials. If the contractor is uncomfortable in revealing his profit margin and refuses to show you the receipt, ask for the purchase order chit instead.

See that the amount of material indicated on the purchase order or receipt tallies with the amount of material brought to site. The proof of purchase should also include a short material description, which you can refer to. This should tell you whether you’ve gotten the exact quality and quantity of material that you need.

Remember: You’re the paying client, and no one has the right to fault you for being prudent and cautious in how you spend your money.

(This story is the first installment in the Contractor or Conman? series)


Have you been a victim of material fraud? Share your experiences and views on the issue on our forum thread.

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Armed with a mildly morbid fascination with the English Language, Cheak writes and edits content and copy for FortyTwo Magazine and FortyTwo Super Store. He's also known for his insatiable appetite and impressive but rather useless ability to stuff his entire fist in his mouth.