Last week, tropical storm Isaac turned into a fully blown hurricane. Now, thousands of homeowners in Louisiana are dealing with flooded homes, power outages and extensive property damage. As they begin to pick up the pieces, many families are desperately searching for help, which can put them at risk for scams.
Returning to normal is always a complicated and stressful process. Insurance claims need filing, property loss needs evaluating and professional help needs hiring. Unfortunately, there are contractors and businesses out there who would take advantage of homeowners, and we want to help storm victim families to avoid them and get the right help as soon as possible. Our experts represent some of the most trusted names in the home improvement business. Last week, we asked them how to ensure that you’re dealing with honest contractors when you’re most vulnerable.
We’ve rounded up the best tips below. Check back later in the week for our wrap-up post on avoiding the biggest scams in home improvement.
How Can Homeowners Avoid Getting Ripped Off After a Storm?
What special questions should you ask repair specialists who are performing storm damage?
How can you ensure that the professional you’re choosing will work with your insurance?
Should you be wary of service companies that come knocking as soon as the storm is over?
Are local companies the best way to go even if they can’t get to you as soon as others?
What should homeowners look for to determine if a company might have poor service or a history of fraudulent repairs?
"Because of all the terrible stories about people losing large sums of money, I would depend on my insurance agent and insurance company. I have a very good relationship with our agent and we use one company to cover as much as possible for the best pricing. We also insure our business through the same agent. This makes you a much more valuable client for your agent. I strongly suggest sitting down with your agent before there is a crisis and make sure you have enough insurance and the right insurance." read more
"Did you know that your insurance company hires professional adjusters to protect their interests? So should you.
Choose to go it alone with your insurance claim and you will more than likely cost yourself more. Property loss consultants, who make this their life’s work, can work more competently and expediently to prepare and file the necessary claims and forms expertly – in order to gain the greatest advantage for you, the policyholder and property owner. By partnering with a professional loss consultant, you eliminate the inherent conflict of interest that exists when one person represents both you and your insurance company. The professional loss consultant has the knowledge, negotiation skills and the ability to recreate a property to ensure that the property owner is made whole by the insurance claim." read more
"Living in a coastal city, we know exactly the type of damage that the storms in the Gulf of Mexico can bring. We recommend that you do your research when selecting a company to perform work on your devastated property. Along with price, consider the time that it will take to complete the project. This research would also require you to do some legwork. Find customers who have been satisfied with the company’s past performance." read more
"We’re into Hurricane season, so this reminder about potential scams is timely, especially since local laws often favor builders, remodelers and contractors rather than homeowners. (At least they do in Texas.) Here’s some advice when hiring a contractor to fix your home or replace your roof.
• Deal only with local contractors, because if a problem occurs, it’s easier to resolve. Local businesses are also more concerned with protecting their reputation, so make sure they have a physical address and ideally a local address (not a P.O. Box). You can verify that it’s a real address with the Street View feature of Google Maps.
• Ask your insurance adjuster for contractor references.
• Ask your contractor for customer references (and call them).
• Don’t pay anything up front, not even for materials. It’s common for a contractor to do one good job and then canvas an entire neighborhood referring to the first, getting up-front payments and then disappearing.
• Make sure the contractor has workman’s comprehensive and liability insurance.
• If you can, require a performance bond, since that provides a source for collecting damages if problems or disputes occur, even if the contractor files for bankruptcy protection or skips town." read more
"For the most part, finding a good contractor to do repairs after a storm is no different than finding a good contractor any time. While the scammers are more active during the time after a major storm, when people are forced into needing repairs and want to make a quick decision and get help fast, they are out there all the time. Here are some tips:
1-Don’t use a contractor who just drops by. If you don’t call them, ignore them. Unless you know the contractor, you just can’t trust that someone who drops by your house will be legitimate. This happens all the time, not just after a storm – some of the most common are chimney, window, and driveway contractors.
2-Check them out. The Better Business Bureau is not a perfect organization, but if a business has dozens of complaints against them (or more), then that should be a big red flag that they are not customer friendly. A business with a few complaints, all of which are handled properly, can be considered. You can also “google” the name of the business and see if there is any other info on them online.
3-Compare. Even if the first contractor sounds great, get at least 1 or 2 more quotes. And if you have to call more than once or twice and don’t get a response, move on to the next contractor. If you have to drag them out to see you, you might get the same treatment once they start working. Not only will you see different prices when you shop around, but as you talk to them they might ask different questions and give you different options to help you figure out exactly what you want. This type of research is almost as important as price." read more