When you are looking for someone to build your Wendy house or Nutec home in Cape Town you are not short of options. There are hundreds of people out there advertising their business. This is especially true on free to use platforms such as Gumtree and Facebook Groups. The problem is not all of these people have your best interests at heart. Some of them are even just plain old scam artists.
This is the nightmare scenario…
You find someone in a free ad who gives you a great price to build your Wendy house. Lets face it, times are tough and any saving on such a huge expense is a great thing. The guy looks legit, and he seems to have a catalogue of pretty decent past work. He talks the talk, so you hand over a 50% deposit- which seems fair. So what? The guy isn’t running some huge company, surely that is why he can be more competitive on price- no overheads!
There are four scenarios from this point on-
1. He builds your unit and its great- you win
2. He builds your unit and its not so great! Now you are fighting to get it sorted out, wasting your time and probably more money. At this point two things could happen: he honours the contract and sorts out the problems, or he fobs you off and you sit with a crap Wendy house for the rest of its short life.
3. He half builds the project then stops taking your calls
4. He gets your deposit and you never see the guy again.
In that last scenario you got scammed, and that was always the intention of the person you were talking to. But usually, in scenarios 2 and 3 the guy started out with all the best of intentions, they just had no clue what they were getting themselves into. They don’t have a legitimate business, and have no clue what it takes to run one.
So, what goes wrong?
A Wendy house company isn’t just about taking a deposit, buying the materials, and then finishing the project. It may not be a big company, but they still have the overheads, they just don’t have a plan for dealing with them. They end up having to spend some of the deposit money on paying wages, or putting petrol in the van etc. Then they can’t buy materials. So they either have to cut back on quality somewhere or wait until they finish another project (or take another deposit) so they can finish your Wendy house. Sooner rather than later they hit that project where the deposit is completely absorbed in finishing other things. They just run out of capital to continue- you get left holding the parcel- and its ticking!
Unfortunately, in some cases, in order to get their Wendy house finished, people hand over more money to these guys. I have heard from people who have half finished Wendy houses or Nutec homes and have already paid the full or nearly full amount to someone that no longer answers the phone.
They should have done some due diligence, but, like you, they were busy, they were conscious of price, and they just made a bad decision in a pressurized situation. If you think this couldn’t happen to you then remember, that’s also what they thought!
I write about due diligence processes else where, here we are just trying to arm you with the skills to spot a potential cowboy before you even respond to an ad.
How to analyze Wendy house company ads
So here are some things you should look for when assessing ads on Facebook and Gumtree:
1. The ad is written badly, seems really poor quality, but the images are professionally taken of stunning units.
This is always number one alarm bell for me. I spend a lot of time looking at images of Wendy houses, and a lot of time looking at these ads. There are some Wendy houses that have apparently been built by hundreds of different people. And if you do a Google image search you find out that the same unit has been built in at least three different countries!
When assessing these ads, if the projects look too good to be true then simply ask the person where they built those units. In my experience they get evasive and start asking for contact details rather than just answering your question. If they genuinely built the units then they will be happy to tell you all about them.
2. No website to link to
Bad companies have web sites, don’t get me wrong. Cowboy Wendy house builders rarely have any at all.
3. On Facebook, no business page
Facebook has a clear policy that if you run a business you need a business page to advertise it. They are good about it though, its free to set one up, and not that difficult to do. The really low level cowboys can’t even manage to do that. Some do- it will just be badly set up.
Someone posting their business services directly onto a Facebook group without liking to a business page is a bit of a red flag. (You have to post to groups using your personal profile, but the preferred method is to share content from your business page.)
4. Only got one cell phone number as a point of contact
Think about this… you hand tens of thousands of rands over to someone and the only link you have to them is a pay-as-you-go cell phone number! You don’t know how to find them, you couldn’t instruct a solicitor or anything if they just go to a supermarket and pay R1 for a new number!
5. Using some iffy gmail email address
This is only really a yellow flag- plenty of well established companies retain their gmail accounts. But there is a world of difference between email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
6. They give themselves away in the language they use
Copywriting ads is a difficult skill to acquire- and if you are good at it you know that a) language is powerful, b) the language the untrained use is a very good indicator of what they were thinking when they wrote it.
If someone refers to their own work as “cheap” then it probably is. Cheap isn’t a good thing. Yup, you have a budget to stick to, but we all know that something that is “cheap” is never going to be any good. When your roof is leaking the first time it rains on your new Wendy house you are going to wish you hadn’t been so “cheap”!
“We specialize in…” followed by a huge list of things in a very broad scope is another indicator to walk away- “We specialize in everything” means they specialize in nothing but are willing to give it a go if it means money. Watching a Youtube video before you attempt something does not make you an expert.
7. You query something and the ad disappears
I have found this myself, especially on Facebook. You query something “where did you build those units?” and the conversation goes like this:
“Where did you build those units?”
“The blue ones”
-send me you number
“I just want to know where you built the blue units.”
-we’re working in grassy park right now, what’s your number.
“Ok, but where did you build the blue units”
Eventually they realize they are found out and dump that ad so that your ‘negative’ comments are not seen by others.
The same ad pops up again in other places, sometimes under a different name.
And that, my friends, is a big red light that you are looking at a possible scam.
There are other things, subtleties, but if you see the things above its a good idea to scroll on.