How to avoid being scammed when a solar salesperson knocks on your door (7 tips)
Buying solar for your home is a major investment that you shouldn't decide on the spot. Here's what to look out for when a salesperson knocks on your door.
With the exploding popularity of rooftop solar, competition among solar installers to capture as much of that market is intense.
If you live in one of the hot markets for rooftop solar such as California, Hawaii, the southwest, and some northeast states, there’s a good chance you’ve heard your doorbell ring and found a solar salesperson at your door, ready to pitch you on the benefits of rooftop solar.
It’s one thing to buy Girl Scout cookies (Thin Mints!) from someone who shows up unannounced at your home, but with a product like rooftop solar there’s a lot more at stake. Not only does solar for your home cost quite a bit more than a box of cookies, but it’s also a product that will be part of your home for 20 to 25 years. It’s not a decision that you should make impulsively, but the goal of door-to-door sales is to convince you to make a decision as quickly as possible.
It should be said that most door-to-door salespeople are ethical professionals trying to do an honest job, but it only takes a few bad apples to give consumers a reason to be wary. For example, Vivint Solar was sued by the attorney general for the state of New Mexico partly because of dishonest sales practices by Vivint’s door-to-door sales.
Not all solar door-to-door sales is a scam, but how do you protect yourself? Here are some tips:
How to avoid being scammed by door-to-door solar sales
Tip 1: Talk to your elderly parents or relatives about door-to-door sales ahead of time.
Many organizations including the FBI, the AARP, and state attorney generals have put out warnings to watch out for door-to-door sales that prey on the elderly. If you have elderly relatives that live on their own, the best way to protect them is have a conversation ahead of time and warn them to not buy anything or enter into a contract without talking to you about it first. Better yet: tell them to simply shut the door on salespeople.
Tip 2: Door-to-door solar companies probably want you to finance. Watch out.
Solar door-to-door sales are dominated by the large, national solar installers such as Sunrun, Vivint, Trinity Solar, and Sunnova. These companies usually offer solar financing through arrangements such as leases and power purchase agreements. For nearly everyone, these financing deals are a bad choice: you would be better off taking out a loan, if necessary, or putting off solar entirely and perhaps choosing community solar instead.
You can read our article to learn more why these financing products should give you pause, but one of the big reasons is that they require you to sign a contract that is typically around 20 years long. But door-to-door sales often uses high pressure sales tactics that push you to make a quick decision. You should always take the time to study a contract before you commit for 20 years, but door-to-door salespeople have been known to not even give you a paper copy of the contract, but instead hand you an iPad to read while they wait.
Tip 3: Look out for red flags, such as dodging detailed answers.
Door-to-door solar sales tend to use superlatives: they might talk about “free” solar, which means they’re trying to sell you on a financing deal. They’ll pitch you on the pros of solar, but avoid talking about the cases where solar might be a bad investment for a person.
The way to pinpoint this problem is to ask lots of detailed questions, including the technical details of the system they’re proposing. I have found multiple websites advising door-to-door salespeople that they shouldn’t try to focus on educating the consumer. Instead, they advise salespeople to get prospects to decide as quickly as possible, and move onto the next customer.
This is terrible for the consumer because solar is a major purchase that will stay with your home for 20 years or more. It’s important to make an informed decision.
Tip 4: They might be commission-only sales
Here’s a company review posted on Indeed.com by a sales consultant working for Vivint Solar:
Commission-only is a type of incentive that often ends up being bad for the customer, as it encourages the salesperson to push for a quick sales at the expense of the customer. If a salesperson is taking a pushy, hard-sell approach with you, this might be the reason why.
Tip 5: Watch out for impostors
Your doorbell rings, and you see a person with a tie, clipboard, and a laminated card around their neck with the logo of some large, well-recognized brand such as Sunrun or Vivint. But how do you really know they’re who they say they are? It’s easy to make a fake id card and business card. This is a common scam, and one that often targets the elderly.
What do you do if you’re not certain if the person standing in front of you is legit? Just close the door. If you really want to do business with that company, just go to their website or call them up on your own.
Tip 6: Always get multiple quotes, and don’t skip your due diligence
Even if you decide you’re interested in the offer presented by a door-to-door salesperson, don’t commit to anything just yet. Always get mutiple quotes, and don’t skip on your due diligence. Do your background research on the companies you get quotes from, and use our 20 point guide on how to compare solar quotes.
Bottom line: don’t rush the process, especially if there’s a door-to-door salesperson in your kitchen encouraging you to do just that.
Bottom line: Maybe you should just close the door
There really isn’t a good reason to say yes to a door-to-door salesperson. They’re not going to offer you a deal that you couldn’t get either by calling the company yourself, and you risk either paying more than you should, or going with a worse installer than if you took a little time to do your research.
The safest thing to do when a door-to-door salesperson comes knocking? Politely say no thanks, and close the door.
Do independent research and get multiple quotes on your own, or use The Solar Nerd to get quotes. We avoid referring people to companies that use high-pressure sales tactics, and instead prefer small local solar installers that focus on doing high quality work.