Zeller was taken by an unreputable carpet cleaning company that used a bait-and-switch technique to get her to pay extra money for shoddy work.
The scammers get into the homes of victims by offering incredibly low prices; usually they will charge just a few dollars per room. But they have no intention on honoring the price.
In Zeller's case, they raised her bill by charging for extras. They pointed at dirty traffic areas in her home, saying she had to have them preconditioned and needed special "dual process treatment" on it.
All of these charges can add hundreds of dollars to a typical carpet cleaning bill. Experts say bait-and-switch carpet cleaners push often unnecessary products through fear and intimidation. Zeller says that was certainly the case with her.
Avoiding The Scam
It is not hard to avoid being a victim of bait and switch carpet cleaning tactics if you recognize the signs. If you get a coupon in the mail and the price is too good to be true, it probably is. A carpet cleaner can not stay in business only charging $4.95 per room. Advertising costs, equipment costs, supplies, fuel, insurance, etc all add up.
To stay in business a cleaner must make between $80 to $100 an hour. The average carpet cleaner cleans about 600 square feet an hour so the average home with 1200 square feet of carpet would have a carpet cleaning cost of $160 to $200.
Prices may vary slightly depending on the level of service that the cleaner offers, but that is the average. You should also read the fine print on the advertisement or coupon you have received. Look to see if there are extra charges for preconditioning, etc.
In addition, check to see if there are room size restrictions. Some companies will charge you extra for rooms over 100 square feet. The only room in your home under that square footage, is probably your closet. Most legitimate cleaners will set the room size limit at somewhere between 200 to 300 square feet.
The people at Angie's List offer up other tips. Check to see if the cleaner has been ok'd by The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification, a nonprofit organization that sets standards and provides education and certification.
Interview prospective candidates in your home so that they can give you a more accurate estimate. Before work commences, have a contract drawn up that states the price of the entire job, including all fees upfront so that there are no surprises later on. Make sure that prospective companies are properly insured in the event that a laborer injures himself or damages your property.
Questions to ask:
How long has the company been in business? Is the company IICRC certified? Does it use CRI Seal of Approval products? What are the basic service costs? How much do additional services cost? Do the cleaners offer a money-back guarantee? Do they have a truck-mounted hot water extraction system of at least 240° F? Ask the cleaners whether they move furniture during the cleaning process, as some companies consider this task too much of a liability issue.
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