Snow job: $4,800 to shovel off a roof? (Ah, the free market in action!)
For the past week or so, the news reports in these parts have carried regular stories about roofs collapsing under the weight of all that snow. Makes me nervous about living in a flat-top building, but, hey, our roof has held up for 100years. Plus we had a worker go up and clear drains and toss a bit of snow around. So we should be good. Nonetheless, I’m relieved we live on a lower floor, far away from the roof.
But folks are scared, and where folks are scared, folks can be scammed. And that’s what happened to an elderly fellow north of Boston who got duped by some contractors – oddly enough, named Snow – into paying $4,800 to clear his roof.
The Snows modus operandi, which they also deploy during the summer months as pavers, is strictly don’t call us, we’ll call you. They show up at someone’s home (generally an older someone) and offer to do some work. It’s not clear whether they generally do it for an agreed upon, but exorbitant, amount, or whether they announce the charge (or new charge) after the fact. Whether there is outright dishonestly or bullying involved is not all that clear. What is clear is that this outfit does appear to be preying on the elderly.
[Amesbury Police Lt. Jeffrey] Worthen said the Snows typically drive around looking for customers and most times offer to do work for people without first settling on a price for their services. When the job is completed, the Snows then hand the unsuspecting customer a huge bill. Last summer, police in Danvers, Beverly, Plum Island and Salisbury received complaints about the Snows' business practices. (Source here and below, until the Boston Globe clicks in: The Daily News of Newburyport. )
In the case of the $4,800 snow job, it seems that the old fellow agreed to pay, likely having been convinced that this was a fair price and/or that his house was in danger of any-time-now collapse. His daughter got wind of things and called the cops, who made the Snows give back the shakedown the snow off the roof money, or else be charged with something or other. Back most of the money went, and the contractors ended up with $250.
Which appears to be within the range, plus or minus, that most of the frothing online commentariat claims is the going rate.
For, needless to say, this brouhaha is grabbing local headlines. (And, of course, the online commentariat has been off to the races. One of the interesting threads has been whether or not the Snows are Irish Travelers (a.k.a., gypsies or Tinkers), and whether or not it’s bigoted to say so. I have to admit that when I first heard of this, and then saw the Snows’ names associated with paving jobs, my first, oh-so-bigoted thought was “Tinkers.”)
It certainly doesn’t help that the Snows – they are a father and sons team – have a wee bit of a history:
The family's sketchy reputation stretches all the way to California where Kevin Jr. and George Snow, along with a Connecticut man, were arrested in June 2009 following a yearlong investigation on charges of improper practices. According to California officials, the trio reached plea agreements on several felony fraud charges last July and agreed to pay $130,000 in fines.
In 2002, Amesbury police charged at least one of the Snows with larceny over $250 for a similar incident, Worthen said. The case was continued without finding for a year, and the accused Snow was sentenced to a year of probation, Worthen said.
The Snows aren’t slinking off the scene, however.
They’re mad as hell, and they’re fighting back. (At least one of them, anyway.)
Kevin Snow, Junior, in Wednesday’s Boston Globe, had this to say for himself.
I want people to know, I'm not scamming, I'm making a living," Kevin Snow Jr., 23, said this morning …
The elderly customer agreed on the price prior to the job and also requested that his garage roof be shoveled, which added to the cost, Snow said.
“It’s called aggressive sale,” he said. “There’s no law against it.”
“We didn’t break any laws and that is what offends me -- I will be looked at in town like a bum," he said.
Snow said that he, his brother, and five other workers spent six hours shoveling the roof, garage, bulkhead, three walkways, and two porches, and de-icing the gutters.
…People should know I’m fair with them,” he said. “They know I have a heart and always give them a price up front.”
Now, other than the ridiculous whining about being “looked at in town like a bum”, and that ridiculous people “know I have a heart” statement, I do have a question here.
Is it against the law to give someone a (however ludicrously) high quote for a project, and then, when they agree to it, charge them for it?
It’s certainly predatory. It’s certainly nasty. It’s certainly unethical.
But is it actually illegal?
And, if it is, at what age do you become a “victim” vs. a “sucker”?
After all, in this case, work was completed, and at a stated price.
If the facts and figures that Snow cited are correct – and, of course, there’s really no reason to believe they are: 7 guys working for 6 hours sounds like an awful lot of mighty big shoveling; I think you could clear the White House roof, and shovel out a walkway to the portico, in under that time – then someone made a killing. Over $100 bucks an hour, for what is pretty mindless work. But it is not without some danger. And it’s not without some risk. And while I, personally, wouldn’t pay someone $100+ an hour to shovel, maybe someone else would.
So, when does it stop being caveat emptor, and start being stop in the name of the law?
What’s the age when it clicks in? Am I over it?
In truth, I kind of live the small town way of justice that went into handling this: Call the cops. Cops blast the guys. Old geezer gets his money back (if not his pride). No one goes to jail. But if the number of man-hours that Snow claims are true (and, again, there’s no reason to believe they are precisely accurate, is there?), then $250 for the entire job is way too little. That’s six bucks and hour. Minimum wage in Massachusetts is $8.00/hour. And surely when you factor in a bit of risk, shoveling off the roof may be worth a tad more.
But again I ask, if indeed the man was quoted “$4,800” and went ahead and gave the okay, what exactly is illegal here? And who gets to decide the fair price?
I’m not condoning this, by the way. Whatever Kevin Snow Jr. might say for himself a bum is a bum is a bum.
And I’m no lawyer, but it seems to me that when Kevin Snow Jr. says:
“It’s called aggressive sale,” he said. “There’s no law against it.”
He may be right.
But on the overall business front, in a day and age when more and more people actually do go to the google and check out a business before they give the go ahead for an expensive project, it’s really not a particularly smart business strategy to develop a reputation as someone with questionable judgment and ethics. Maybe it’s a reasonable short term approach to grab the money and run. To price gouge because you could get away with it. And, hey, it’s legal. But in the long run, it doesn’t strike me as a very savvy way to build a business.
Do you know anyone who’d do business with the Snow family?
Labels: business stupidity