BBB CONSUMER TIPS: BBB urges caution in wake of storms
At the time of this writing, Hurricane Florence is looking to cause significant damage due to winds and flooding. In the aftermath of a storm, are you mentally prepared to protect your wallet from being emptied by a smooth-talking con artist? The Better Business Bureau urges the public to always exercise caution when hiring contractors to repair damage to their home or property. Natural disasters can bring out the best in people, unfortunately it also brings out others looking to capitalize off of your misfortune.
Property owners will want to make repairs to their home or business as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, unscrupulous contractors or scam artists may take advantage of the post-disaster chaos to scam unsuspecting property owners out of money for deposits, provide shoddy materials and provide substandard work.
BBB offers these tips for selecting a contractor to repair any damages:
• Check with your insurance company about policy coverages and any specific filing requirements the company may have.
• Don’t act in haste and never sign anything you do not understand. If someone is insisting you sign immediately, this is a red flag you need to find another contractor. Make temporary repairs if necessary.
• For major permanent repairs, take time to shop around for contractors, get competitive bids, check out references, make sure the contractor is properly licensed and check their BBB profile at bbb.org. Be suspicious of out of town contractors looking to make a quick buck off of your misfortune. Will they still be around if a problem arises later?
• Try to be patient. When an area has extensive damage, it may take some time for a local contractor to get to you. While this can be frustrating, this is where scam artists can come in and manipulate your anxiety to their advantage. Do not be pressured into making a snap decision.
• While being patient, also act promptly. Insurance policies require you take action to prevent further damage to your property. You may need to move your personal belongings to a different location, cut off the water supply, or have a tarp placed on your roof, (but only if this can be safely done). Thoroughly clean out mud and residual material from heating and cooling units and let the units dry out before determining whether the equipment is functional or needs repairs.
• Get a written agreement with your contractor that outlines the repairs to be done, the types of materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Review it carefully before signing. Insist that the contractor obtain all necessary permits and avoid anyone who asks you to provide your own permits. The person obtaining the permit is the one responsible for ensuring that all work meets code requirements. That needs to be the contractor, not you.
• Be wary if a contractor asks you to sign an estimate. Many unscrupulous contractors have you sign what you think is an estimate but in reality, is a binding contract. Also watch out for cancellation fees sometimes referred to as liquidation damages. These are fees charged to a homeowner if they decide to use a different contractor. If you are unsure what you are reading, ask the contractor to spell it out for you.
• Never pay for all repairs in advance and do not pay cash.
Disasters are a stressful event. Victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. Start with trust. For reliable information, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and BBB Business Reviews you can trust, visit BBB.org.