Auto Restoration: How to Avoid Being Ripped Off

January 15, 2008

car-garage.jpgRestoration can be accurately estimated.  Buffalo Restorations in Puyallup restores vintage automobiles at costs ranging upwards of $100,000 and more, and has a number of unhappy customers. One of these customers recently obtained a jury verdict against Buffalo and its owner Robert Newgard for fraud, conversion and breach of contract. At the trial, among other witnesses, two former employees testified about Buffalo’s practices and two former customers testified about their experiences.

If you are considering having a car built or renovated, here are a few things to consider in choosing a shop and in reviewing your bills. First don’t let your decision where to take the car be swayed by advertising; let it be determined by the results of your “due diligence.” Also bear in mind that the quality of work is not necessarily related to the size of the company. Some of the best shops are one-person shops (as are some of the bad ones). Consider these things:

1. Check with the Superior Court to see the number of lawsuits that have been filed and check with the Better Business Bureau.

2. Contact the people who have sued or filed complaints.

3. Find out how long the people have been working there (high turn-over is a bad sign).

4. Find out where the employees worked before they were hired.

5. Get a list of customers who have had something similar done for them.

6. Ask for references, both customers and trade references.

7. What recognition has the shop received, such as awards or mention in publications.

8. Get an estimate and create a budget for the job, recognizing that experienced professionals can give a very close estimate of the final restoration cost with a good description of what things might be found that could change the cost. Discuss these variables in detail. Some renovation shops will spend a lot of time examining the car and preparing a budget and they will often charge a fee for this, sometimes around $500 (a good investment).

9. Discuss a completion schedule so that you have some notion of how long the car will be at the shop and be clear about what billing procedure will be followed.

10. Take the car to more than one shop and discuss with a consultant what needs to be done to the car if the estimated cost of restoration warrants it.

11. Get a written contract and make sure that it reflects what was actually agreed upon. If the contract is for a high enough amount have a lawyer review it.

One Foreclosure Scam: Charles Head

January 15, 2008

The F.B.I. has been searching for Charles Head, who operated out of Southern California and stole millions of dollars from homeowners, leaving them without their homes and sorting through a maze of paperwork. Mr. Head’s various companies advertised on the internet and through unsolicited faxes to mortgage brokers and the like. He and his companies victimized hundreds of people, including about 15 Washingtonians.

All his scams were directed at people who were behind on house payments — people in distressed circumstances and often frantically looking for a means of saving their homes. There were many variations on the standard scam. Generally though the it was proposed that the debt would be paid off if the victim conveyed title to a third person who would hold title for one to three years, at which time the victim would buy the house back. Meanwhile the victim would stay in the house paying rent. Usually it was acknowledged that the price to buy the home back would be slightly higher than the balance on the loan that was being paid off.

The third party to whom title would be conveyed used his or her credit to pay off the victim’s mortgage. (This scam could only be done when credit was reasonably easy.) This “investor” would then be in title and would wait to convey the property back to the original owner at a profit. The “investor” understood that one of Mr. Head’s management companies was collecting the rent and paying the mortgage. Typically the “investor” was not sophisticated in real estate transactions and did not understand the details of what was occuring with the raft of papers.

Meanwhile Mr. Head arranged for an appraisal at the highest amount he could get and applied for a loan for the “investor” at the full appraised value of the home. When the “sale” to the “investor” closed the loan proceeds were used to pay off the victim’s mortgage and all of the rest of the money was wired to Mr. Head. When the victim paid rent after closing, Mr. Head kept al the money and paid nothing on the mortgage taken out by the “investor.” After a few months, the mortgage company would begin a foreclosure, usually taking title to the home from the investor and evicting the homeowner. The investor’s credit is ruined the victim’s is homeless and Mr. Head ends up with all the money.

Immunity for Causing Bridge Collapse

January 15, 2008

There’s a great controversy right now (obscured somewhat by the campaigning) about whether telephone companies ought to receive retroactive immunity for cooperating with the federal government in illegal wiretaps. (There would be no need for immunity without liability; if the telephone companies were not liable to their customers, there would be nothing for them to be immune from.) Meanwhile, other legislative immunities go unexamined.

For example in Minnesota it was determined that last year’s bridge collapse that killed thirteen people was due to a design defect. In Washington State the construction industry as a whole has absolute statutory immunity from claims arising from any disaster that occurs more than six years after completion of the project. The full weight of the disater falls on the victims. You may say “Well at least they could recover from the insurance companies” but no, the insurers of the responsible parties are released if their customer has no liability. So in Washington no matter what the scope of the disaster there is simply no recourse for the victims of construction-related calamities. Except of course with respect to condominia, where there is immunity for any disaster arising only 4 years from completion.