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How do you avoid scam repairs after a storm?

This week, the Republican National Convention will kick off in Tampa, Florida in spite of a forecast which predicts that Tropical Storm Isaac is headed that same direction. It’s the middle of hurricane season for the south-east region of the country and many homeowners are prepared for the worst, taking every precaution they know of to help prevent damage to their house. But, Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate, causing massive damage and leaving many families scrambling to put their homes back together.

Why We’re Asking:

In the days after a severe storm, homeowners are desperate to get their home repaired. Broken roofs, bursting pipes, and unstable electrical systems are just the beginning. During the rest of the year, finding someone to repair these problems might come after a comprehensive search, checking references, questioning friends and doing research online; all steps that don’t seem as important when a 10,000 lb. tree is couch surfing in your living room. The problem is, some repair specialists choose to capitalize on desperate families, doing quick, faulty repairs, overcharging and handing out false information. We want to find out how homeowners can manage patience and good judgement to choose the best repair specialist when they think they have no other choice.

So design experts, it’s time to weigh in:

How Can Homeowners Avoid Getting Ripped Off After a Storm?

How to Protect Yourself from 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?

Come back throughout the week to find out what our experts have to say!

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!



  • Pablo Solomon 08/27/12

    Having lived in storm prone areas –hurricanes as a child and now tornadoes–I have seen a lot of repair horror stories.
    The best thing to do is to work directly with your insurance company–assuming your adjuster is not on the take–which while rare is not unheard of.
    You should also be aware that you are responsible for damage that occurs after the fact. So do your best to put tarps and take other steps to prevent damage that your insurance company does not cover.
    Of course, make certain that you understand your insurance policy. Often you may think you are covered under situations that your policy does not cover–rising water, damage due trees that were dead and a hazard before the storm, storm exposed previous conditions, etc.
    We were always lucky enough to have gotten local contractors who we knew. Some companies specialize in restoration after disasters and are nationwide with good reputations. However, there are groups of scam artists who are also storm chasers so beware.
    Having been through a restoration after a hurricane and another following a tornado I can tell you that having a helpful insurance company and a great contractor are God sends.
    Thanks,
    Pablo Solomon
    Artist & Designer

  • Wayne Caswell 08/27/12

    We’re into Hurricane season, and Isaac is barreling down on New Orleans, 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.

    • Avoid storm chasers,” those unscrupulous contractors that show up after disasters to prey on people in a hurry to fix their homes. You can recognize them by the magnet signs on their trucks and their temporary offices and phone numbers. You may also notice yard signs popping up everywhere to promote their services.

    • 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.

    • Contact the Better Business Bureau to check contractor status, but pay particular attention to how long they’ve been listed with a local address. Storm chasers can register themselves and get a AAA rating until complaints are reported.

    • Angie’s List is another good reference, because it has both good & bad consumer comments. Although there’s a small fee, it’s probably worth it.

    • Ask your insurance adjuster for contractor references.

    • Ask your contractor for customer references (and call them).

    • Ask what State agency regulates the contractors and contact them to make sure the contractor is registered or licensed, whatever the law requires. Promptly report any contractor problems to the State regulatory agency. Note that States like Texas don’t require roofers to have a license, and that leaves consumers with less protection.

    • 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.

    • The written contract defines the rights of each party, so understand your contract and get help from an attorney if you don’t. Avoid contracts with a mandatory binding arbitration clause, since arbitration almost always favors the contractor.

  • Greg Chick 08/28/12

    I’d wait for a neighbor to get a repair with a contractor I’m considering. Tell the contractor that if all is well with your neighbor’s job, that you’ll hire them. Your neighbor gets the benefit of being the first to be served and you are spared being the guinea pig. If the contractor has extra guys that work somewhere else, you can inspect that job too.
    Another good idea is to know where the materials are coming from, if the contractor is on a cash basis, how long they have had a relationship with the workers compensation board, and what their license number is. Most often, license numbers are issued starting low and ascending. In other words, lower numbers mean more experience. You can also ask how long the employees have worked for the contractor and heck the address on the invoice to see if it’s truly a local company.

  • Sam Lazarus 08/28/12

    Hurricane Isaac is headed for the US coast, right for the state of Louisiana. The front side of the storm has already dropped several inches of rain, the eye will pass through and the back side of the storm will dump several inches more. We are in KS and preparing to team up with local vendors to serve clients in LA. We will work under local vendors assisting them with whatever they need in restoring homes and businesses after they have encountered flood and or water damage.
    In KS we experience many spring storms and related damage.
    I have personally experienced hail damage. With a hail storm, many businesses send us flyers in the mail and many send canvassing crews. I choose not to use any that come to my door or send me mailers. I know some names from the local market who I call to get advice. I wait for things to slow down and then get the repairs done. I’m able to get a good value for the money I was willing to pay.
    My encouragement to those needing services, call on various companies such as ServiceMaster, which have standing contracts with many insurance companies. The vendors in their network are pre-qualified to be a part of a group where certain standards of workmanship and insurance must be met.
    Due to the high demand for qualified contractors, sometimes it is not easy to get estimates, since contractors are performing services for existing clients. Using a network ensures prices that are generally standard by 3rd party pricing companies such as Xactware or Symbility.
    I am not in favor of companies that come knocking on the door. After a storm I do not have time or the resources to go looking for work, I am busy producing the work that we have pre-contracted for.

  • Steve Labbe 08/29/12

    I think the way people can protect themselves from people who are scam artists is to get a person by referral. I belong to a group called BNI which stands for Business Network International.
    We all work real hard to get to know one another and trust our services. We then can refer our BNI Members to people in need of their services. The web site can be located at BNINH.com. This is a good place to start to look for qualified professionals.

    Read testimonials and ratings on line. Google the name of the person and their company. Go to the Better Business Bureau to find qualified professionals. Awards given by the community are a good thing to look for. It is very hard to win these awards. People have put their word out for these winners. Ask for references when you interview these professionals. Are they on time when they arrive to your home? Are they dressed professionally? Have them show you pictures of work they have done. Find out their physical location so if you have a problem you can go there to talk to someone.

    If they ask you for a deposit, you can agree or not agree. If you say no and they demand a deposit, this will be a red flag. I will stay and do the work for a client that does not give me a deposit. I know I will be doing a great job and the money is always there. This is a way for people to feel that they are in control. The projects I receive are very important to me and I take a chance with my clients. After I give my new clients this kind of trust the next time they usually ask me if they can give me a deposit. Remember it is all about trust, so you need to feel good with the people you do business with.

    The last item is to ask them if they give back to the community they are working in. Those prone to giving will let you know that they are the real deal. A heart filled with gratitude is important. People who give back take the profit dollars they are making from you and plant it back into the community. This means if you hire them the money they are helping with is the money you are giving to them. You are now giving back also because you are part of the process. This is the circle of life coming around. Remember, no good deed goes unnoticed. Happy hiring

  • Peter L. Mosca 08/29/12

    Hire someone with your best financial interests in mind! Accidents happen: fires, weather-related storms, electrical mishaps, mother nature. When your property is damaged, what do you do? Most property owners call their insurance companies first — thinking that is in their best interests. 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. Plus, property loss consultants can assist a policyholder in non-traditional ways that allow for a more comprehensive recovery plan like finding alternative housing, if required, and handling every aspect of this potentially life-altering event, freeing you to focus on your everyday life concerns.

  • Paul Abrams, Roto-Rooter Corp. 08/30/12

    Be sure you are hiring a plumbing service with technicians who are licensed and insured. Note whether the technician arrives in professional attire, a well-maintained and marked service vehicle and wearing name tag.

    Make certain they have a website you can reference for things like travel or “emergency hour” charges.

    If you can’t find online reviews, you can always ask for a client reference, as well.

  • Grand View Builders 08/30/12

    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.

    Additionally, Grand View Builders’ sister company, SWMJ, specializes in residential reconstruction and rehabilitation. Having worked with victims of Hurricane Rita they are definitely specialists who have the proven ability to successfully repair, restore and remodel your home.

  • Kris @ HouseBuying-Tips.com 08/31/12

    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 certainly 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 a 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.

    Of course, when disaster strikes you might need immediate help. But you don’t want to add to your troubles by getting the wrong contractor, and end up dealing with another disaster!

  • BIll Begal 08/31/12

    My company Begal Enterprises, Inc. is a Maryland based disaster restoration full service company that works and responds all of the United States. Here are few things to consider as well as best practices.

    • Common sense !! Often, it is not common. Trust your gut.

    • Read what you sign, especially the fine print, and terms of the contact you are about to execute.

    • See who your neighbors are using, are they satisfied?

    • Local or Out of town contractor check for a web site, see if they are insured, make sure that it is a current certificate of insurance and make sure there IS workman’s comp coverage

    • See what your insurance policy stipulates you need to do to protect your rights and your policy proceeds
    Residential FLOOD & STORM Clean up Best Practices Based on Experiences of Past Clients

    • Get a notebook & keep track of all dates, times and persons that you talk to in regards to your claim.

    • Take digital photos of all affected areas as soon as safely possible.

    • Get a copy of your insurance policy. This defines & determines your limits, rights & responsibilities to & from your Insurance Company.

    • Speak / sit down with your adjuster. Define who is taking responsibility for your loss. What are your responsibilities and / or duties to comply as well as make a smooth and seamless claim process?

    • Ask what is the process for listing and valuating your T/L (total loss) personal property and for getting compensated. Do not throw ANYTHING away, everything has value.

    • Follow up EVERY meeting or conversation with an email to memorialize and capture what was discussed & might have been agreed to. This will eliminate any potential confusion and misunderstandings later on.

    • Ask your adjuster for a sufficient advance for purchases that are necessary. Include enough money to assist with your first month & security deposit for a temporary dwelling.

    • Save ALL receipts for any additional expenses, all meals, hotels, purchases, toiletries, vitamins, cosmetics etc.

    • Wear P.P.E (protective clothing) if you enter a disaster zone; Gloves, Hard Hat, Respirator, Ty-Vec Suits.
    THEN, WASH YOUR HANDS! This is the most effective method of preventing the spread of germs, viruses,
    bacteria and disease.

    • DO NOT TAKE ANY FOOD, PRESCRIPTIONS or COSMETICS FROM THE HOUSE that have gotten wet or been exposed to the elements or unusual amounts of moisture or heat.

    • Refer to http://www.epa.gov to answer questions on mold and how to properly clean, disinfect or remediate.

    • RIA the trade association that represents 20,000 restoration professionals suggests this checklist.
    http://www.ascr.org/consumers/after-catastrophe

    • NEVER EVER open a refrigerator or freezer that has been off for more than a week. The smell will knock you over.
    • As the Restoration Industry Association (RIA)

    recommends: “If you feel that you are being pressured to choose a certain company, you can contact your local Attorney General’s Office to file a complaint.”

    • Check references for any and all companies that you retain to perform work on your behalf.

  • Nancy Dalton 09/01/12

    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 we 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. Flood insurance is usually inexpensive, but you need to purchase it several months prior to the event. In the case of an emergency I would work with the agent and expect the insurance company to repairs including deposits.
    Of course the insurance company would like to pay the least they can but with a local agent involved, I believe my best interests would be protected. If it were not an emergency I would not have the insurance company be this involved, but if I have a tree in my living room and so do 300 of my neighbors, I may not have the luxury of getting multiple bids and being sure of the references.
    I may be naïve since I’ve never been faced with this problem but I just wouldn’t want to hand over a large sum of money to someone I didn’t know. And there is the whole subject of what was and was not covered and how it did or did not get taken care of by insurance companies with Katrina. I know that in the state of Washington we have a good Insurance Commissioner and I would contact his office if I had problems resolving my claim. I think it’s a good time to mention the great work of the Red Cross and support their efforts!

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