Common Carpet Scams You Can Avoid
Just like it’s important to learn from history, it’s important to learn how people have been scammed.
The only thing worse than shopping for carpet and getting ripped off is when you put in time researching the perfect carpet, but it, and then get ripped off. Fortunately, scams aren’t common if you shop from a reputable company.
This article is a “mashup”. Basically, it’s multiple articles I had written on different ways people have been scammed by carpet. I thought these articles would be better off in one article, so you can quickly get an idea of the most common scams I’ve seen. The writing and transitions may not be the best, but give this a quick skim to protect yourself.
Scam 1: over-measuring
The #1 way to be overcharged on your carpet is for it to be over-measured. The cost of over-measuring is amplified because carpet is such a big purchase. Let’s use a $5,000 carpet job as an example (a reasonable amount for 1,000 square feet being carpeted). If the installer does his measurements and writes an invoice for 20% more carpet than you need, you will pay an extra $1,000!
I’m sure anyone this has happened to feels sick if they find out.
You might think 20% wouldn’t happen because it’s too obvious. Yes and no. Yes in that 20% would be on the higher end. No in that it likely does happen because installers can over measure more than you think without it being noticeable (I’ll explain more on why later). But even if you just get over-measured by an undetectable 5%, that’s $250 you lose.
Why it happens without you knowing
Over-measuring can be a blatant scam or a simple mistake.
Installation is an art. The problem with art is there’s room for interpretation. There’s not an exact amount of carpet you need for the job, and it’s always more than the square footage of the rooms you need to be carpeted.
But by how much?
It depends on the dimensions of the room, how regularly shaped the rooms are, the carpet roll size, where you want the seams, and other factors. The installer has to take into account all of these to come up with a required amount of carpet.
This can lead to two types of over measurement: the intentional kind and the unintentional kind.
The unintentional kind might be the installer’s opinion, mis-measurement, or just poor installation. Keep in mind, some “waste” is normal, but exactly how much is up for interpretation. The intentional kind of over measurement can’t be defended by interpretation. It is the installer and/or the retailer scamming more money out of you by telling you they need more carpet than is reasonable. It’s hard for you to detect because you don’t know how much carpet they need. Unless you take these steps…
Captain’s clarification! Keep in mind, when buying carpet, you need more than the square footage of the room. This can vary but is usually around 10-20%. Therefore, finding out if your installer over-measured isn’t as simple is looking at the square footage of your room and seeing if the estimate has higher number.
How to not be overcharged
There are a few ways to combat over-measuring. Use one or all of these strategies, and it can pay off in a huge way.
The first and simplest is to hire two, preferably three, companies to come out and measure. This gives you a comparison to check each installer’s work. To make this more effective, hint that you’re getting multiple estimates. This will keep installers honest and on their toes. One piece of advice, don’t assume the highest measurement is ripping you off, especially if it’s only slightly higher. It could be better seam placement by the installer, so give him a chance to explain.
Keep in mind, you most likely won’t get a free estimate if you don’t buy from the company. This means your “insurance” of multiple measurements will come at a cost. This is a cost that will likely be worth it, but here’s another method you can use: measure the carpet yourself. It sounds difficult, but if you read our article, you’ll be able to do it yourself. This won’t be a perfect number, but it gives you a ballpark number to raise red flags if the installer is out of line.
Your final option is to pick a good installer in the first place. This is much easier said than done. Friend’s recommendations are one method to pick out a good installer, but I’m not a huge fan because sometimes a poor job doesn’t show up until years down the road. The article discusses this and other tips to choose an installer who’s will serve you well.
Scam 2: not-getting-what-you-paid-for scam
You went through Carpet Captain’s Carpet Buying 101 Guide, but 6 years in the future your carpet looks terrible. What went wrong? There’s a chance that the perfect carpet you ordered isn’t what was delivered. Most people trust that the installer shows up with the product they paid for, but sometimes this doesn’t happen. Maybe the installer/retailer swaps it out for a cheaper product to increase their profit margins, or maybe they accidentally show up with the wrong carpet. Doesn’t matter to you. You want what you paid for. So how do you make sure you get it?
It starts with the receipt
If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen. In other words, it doesn’t matter that your salesman told you were getting 40-ounce Stainmaster nylon. If your receipt says “300 sqft. nylon carpet: $2,000,” then your only guarantee is that you’re getting 300 square feet of nylon carpet. Three hundred square feet of generic 30-ounce nylon could show up at your home, and you couldn’t complain. Well, you could complain and would have every right to, but if the company wanted to deny your claim, there isn’t much you could do about it.
The point here is get everything in writing. The easiest way to do this is to make sure your receipt or invoice itemizes everything you’ve paid for. Go a step further, and make sure every item on the receipt includes the details you discussed with the salesman.
Take some evidence
Now you have what you ordered in writing, but how do you know that it’s the same carpet as the one that shows up in the delivery truck? Sure, you can tell if you’ve received a Berber or frieze. The color should be pretty obvious.
But other things, such as face weight and material, can be more difficult to determine. You might have a suspicion you got polyester instead of nylon when your carpet prematurely breaks down, but how do you know before the installer leaves your home?
There isn’t an easy answer, but the first step is to check if there’s a label. You can ask the installer. Some carpets will be labeled when they arrive with all the important specifications. Many may not be labeled, and even if they are, there’ no guarantee the label is correct.
This is where taking a sample is useful. Ask the store if you can keep a sample of the exact carpet you’ve ordered and keep it until the carpet arrives. This will help most in determining if you receive the correct density. Rubbing your hand through the fibers and bending the carpet will give you a decent idea of how the density of the sample and the delivered carpet compare.
If you aren’t 100% sure the material is the same as your sample you kept, you can perform chemical and burn tests to tell what your carpet is made of. But remember kids, don’t play with fire! In all seriousness, there is risk of serious injury and property damage if you try a chemically manipulating or burning carpet on your own. You should not perform these chemical/burn tests on your own–hire a trained professional!
Check on the padding
If you’ve read just a few pages on this site, you know you shouldn’t overlook the padding. But like carpet, just because you order the right thing, doesn’t mean you received the right pad.
The good news with padding is it’s pretty obvious when you’ve got the right type. No worries here.
The bad news is the density of the pad of the pad isn’t so obvious. However, here’s more good news: you don’t have to determine the density. All you have to do is compare the density of padding you receive to the sample you kept from the store.
Here’s how you do it: keep a sample of padding with the density you order. Take the sample and squeeze it between your thumb and forefinger. That will be your baseline. Now take the pad you received and pinch it between your thumb and forefinger. Firmer = greater density. If the padding you receive feels softer or squishier than the sample, it’s worth considering you didn’t get the pad you ordered.
If you’re suspicious
Sometimes these tips will give you a strong a feeling that you’ve been scammed, but you’re still not 100% sure. What do you do if you’re suspicious the wrong carpet or pad arrived, but you can’t prove it?
Try first calling your carpet retailer or installer. If they’re willing to inspect it for free, let them. They’ll either tell you they messed up and will be replacing the carpet, or they’ll tell you everything is just as you ordered.
If they tell you everything’s okay but you’re still suspicious, the next step is to gather all of your receipts and samples, and call a carpet inspector. They can give you an unbiased and official report on what you have versus what you paid for.
Scam 3: classic bait-and-switch scam
Bait and switch is a scamming tactic where a company gets their foot in your door (baits) with a great price, but then changes (switches) the price when they arrive for the job. The reason it’s effective is the salesman knows that once they’re in your home, chances are very good they’ll get the sale even if they just pissed you off by changing the price. Why do they know they’ll still get the sale? For two reasons: The first reason is you already fit time in your schedule to have carpet installed, so they assume you’d rather accept the higher price than deal with the hassle of clearing out another day in their schedule. The second reason is that the salesman will try frame the situation as being your fault. They may claim you should have expected the low-quality product for the price quoted. Their hope is that it makes you feel too guilty to tell them you no longer want the work done.
How does bait and switch work?
Here’s an example: The salesman or advertisements states that you can get carpet, padding, and installation all for under $12sq/yd ($1.30sq/ft). They might try to persuade you that the carpet is of decent or even good quality. “This carpet normally retails for $25sq/yd.”
When hey show up to your house, they’ll give you carpet options for the price quoted. These samples are intentionally so ugly or of such poor quality that no one would want them, but when you ask to see other samples, he tells you that they will cost $30sq/yd.
This is just one example. Other ways they might switch the price on you is charging outrageous prices for “extras” such as uninstalling your old carpet, dumping your old carpet, moving furniture, etc.
How do I avoid bait and switch when shopping for carpet?
All of these scams have one thing in common: they start with a very low price—often too good to be true. Educate yourself on carpet, padding and installation prices, and these scam prices should stand out. Whenever you see an abnormally low price, be skeptical. This doesn’t mean don’t buy it. It could just be a great deal, but ask yourself why the price is so low. There could be legitimate reasons that don’t affect you—the carpet style is discontinued, it’s a radical color that you like, it has a minor defect, etc. Educate yourself and stay vigilant, and you should have a great carpet shopping experience.
Scam #3: free-padding scam
Sometimes you’ll see advertisements for “free padding.” You’re smart and know there’s know there’s no such thing as free, but how the retailer “makes their money back” on these advertisements can be misleading. Here are a few things to watch out for:
Overcharging you for carpet and other hidden fees
The cost of padding adds up. Typical padding might cost you around $0.40 a square foot. If you need 1500 square feet, this adds up to $600 “saved” by not paying for padding. That may seem like a lot for the retailer to make up for in hidden fees, but it’s fairly easy to do because carpeting is such a big purchase.
For instance, what if a carpets true retail value was $3.10 sq/ft, but the retailer listed the price at $3.50? Most carpet shoppers wouldn’t even notice. To make things even more deceiving, there are many other hidden costs retailers can add in. Here are a few examples: extra charges for installing carpet on stairs, extra charges for hauling away your old carpet, and extra charges for “special requirement” installation—eventually I will make a blog post covering the long list of tricky fees retailers sometimes charge. All of these little extra charges can easily total over $0.40 sq/ft without you ever realizing you’re getting ripped off.
Take home point: Always ask about every charge you could possibly have with installation, padding, and the carpet before you buy. Educate yourself on carpet fundamentals, so you can determine whether a carpet priced $3.50 is better quality or overpriced compared to the $3.00 carpet you looked at at the previous store. This is a good habit to have anytime you buy carpet, but especially when you see the word ‘free’ being thrown around.
Watch out for up-selling
We have a whole article on the bait and switch carpet scam that applies here. Free padding can be used in a bait and switch—I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you go shopping and find a carpet. The padding is free, and you are knowledgeable about carpet and installation and know that they are a fair price. You are sure you are getting a good deal. When the day for installation arrives, the installer shows up and asks you about how long you want the carpet to last. You respond, “As long as possible. At least 10 years.”
The installer responds that free padding is a lower quality pad, but he gives you the option to upgrade to something higher quality. Then you’re hit with the bad news: the upgrade price is just as high or higher than the price of buying the pad in the first place.
Take home point: Make sure you know the specifications of your free padding before you swipe your credit card. Check out the Captain’s guide on pad density and types of pad for a 5-minute overview of what you need to know.
Poor Quality Padding
This is the most dangerous of all the “free padding” schemes. It’s similar to the previous example, but the difference is they don’t try to upsell you. The retailer just gives you a poor quality product. It costs them very little to give you a low quality carpet pad, and unfortunately, it will cost you a lot in the long run. Padding is critical to how long your carpet will last. A poor quality padding means even a durable carpet will disappoint.
Take home point: Follow the same advice as above.
Scam #4: fine-print scam
This is similar to above. You hear of a great “deal,” but you need to make sure it’s not too good to be true. It should raise red flags when you hear things like “buy one room get the rest of the house free.” Sounds great, usually isn’t.
Let’s use Empire Today as an example. They often have “amazing” flooring deals. This is fine print on a recent deal taken from their website on August 21, 2017:
Discount is applied to the regular price of select styles of Carpet, Hardwood, Vinyl, Tile, and Laminate; basic installation; and standard padding and materials. Excludes stairs, floor prep, take-up of permanently affixed flooring, non-standard furniture moving, upgrades, other miscellaneous charges, and prior purchases. Product may not be sold separately from installation. Residential installations only. Not available in all areas or in stores. Valid 08/21/2017 through 09/24/2017. Subject to change.
There are many concerning statements here if I’m a carpet shopper. The deal includes “basic” installation and pad and “select styles” of carpet. That may sound reasonable but the problem is many cases may not be basic, and then quoted prices have no limit on how much they increase.
And what are “upgrades” and “miscellaneous charges” that the deal excludes? That leads the door wide open for a bait-and-switch (described above.
The point isn’t to pick on Empire Today, but they’re a big company that has many of these extreme deals. This example is to point out that when you are priced a “flat fee” ask if there can be any extra fees, and get those extra fees in writing before signing on the dotted line.
Captain’s parting words!
Skimming these common carpet scams should give you a good idea of how to be vigilant while carpet shopping. And you probably realized, these scams really aren’t unique to carpet. There’s a variation of these in everything you buy.
Buying from someone you trust or a store with a flawless reputation helps drastically reduce the chance of you getting ripped off. If you’re buying from a company you haven’t heard of, a single installer or salesman, or anyone without a brick-and-mortar business, you need to be a little more careful.
Have you ever been scammed? Anything you’re worried about? Let me know in the comments.