BBB urges caution in post-storm contractor hiring
The Better Business Bureau is reminding people who have recently experienced storm and hail damage to take precautions when hiring a contractor.
Natural disasters, such as tornadoes, can bring out the best in people as strangers reach out to help others in need, the bureau said in a news release. Unfortunately, crises also can bring out persons who choose to take advantage of storm victims.
Some of the most common post-disaster scams involve roof repair. Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to homeowners who suffer roof damage in the wake of a natural disaster:
? Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts if temporary roofing repairs are necessary.
? Don’t pay for the job in advance. Be wary of any contractor who demands full or half payment upfront.
? Don’t have the insurance company make the check out to the contractor.
? Because you may be anxious to get things back to normal as quickly as possible, it is easy to let your emotions get the best of you. Remember that you must live for many years with the choice you make. Don’t be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Be proactive in selecting a company and not reactive to sales solicitations.
? For major repairs, take time to shop around and get three or four estimates based on the same specifications and materials. Check out references that are more than six months old. Verify with your local city or county agencies that companies are required to be licensed or registered to do work in your area. Check with your local building inspector to see whether a building permit is required.
? Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have leftover materials from a job “down the street” or who don’t have a permanent place of business. If sales people go do-to-door, check to see if your community requires them to have solicitation permits.
? Be leery if a worker shows up on your doorstep to announce that your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it. While most roofing contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing someone you don’t know to inspect your roof. An unethical contractor may create damage to get work.
? Require a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. Be sure their name, address, license number (if applicable) and phone numbers are included in the contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety. Don’t sign a blank contract. A copy of the signed contract should be given to you at the time of signature.
Clearly written proposals that are detailed and broken down into separate line items are a good sign that the contractor is being thorough and has prepared an accurate estimate. Here is a partial list of items your estimate or proposal should include:
? The type of roof covering, manufacturer and color
? Materials to be included in the work, such as underlayment, ice dam protection membrane, etc.
? Scope of work to be done
? Removal or replacement of existing roof
? Flashing work (e.g. existing flashings to be replaced or re-used, adding new flashing, flashing metal type)
? Ventilation work
? Responsibility for repairing/replacing exterior landscape or interior finishes that are damaged during the course of the work. Make sure the language says who is responsible for any damage that may occur as a result of the work. All items of concern and all specific work to be done should be outlined in the contract.
? Installation method
? Approximate starting and completion dates
? Payment procedures
? Length of warranty and what is covered (e.g. workmanship, water leakage)
? Who will haul away the old roofing materials and/or project waste (e.g. extra materials, packaging, etc.). Any charges for this should be stated clearly.
If one estimate seems much lower than the others and sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Many fly-by-night contractors’ below-cost bids seem attractive, but these contractors often are uninsured and perform substandard work or use substandard materials. Make sure to read the fine print. Some contracts use a clause where substantial cancellation fees or liquidation damages are required if the homeowner decides not to use the contractor after insurance approval of the claim. In some instances you may be required to pay the full agreed price if the homeowner cancels after the three-day cancellation period. If an estimate or contract is confusing, ask the contractor to break it down into items or terms you can understand.
Storm chasing has become a multimillion-dollar industry, complete with computerized hail forecasting, teams of out-of-state installers and trained salespeople who go door-to-door soliciting work. Consumers should educate themselves before negotiating with them.
Storm victims should never feel forced to make hasty decisions or choose unknown contractors. For reliable information, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and business reviews you can trust on local companies, visit www.bbb.org or call (316) 263-3146 or (800) 856-2417.