Thousands of Houstonians throughout the city have been displaced from their homes, many of which have never before been affected by flooding.

In the wake of this extreme devastation, Houstonians will soon begin looking for contractors, remodelers and builders to help repair and rebuild their homes.

Unfortunately, many cities that experience natural disasters are infiltrated with construction "storm chasers" who have hopes of capitalizing on those affected. In order to make an informed decision and select a reputable contractor, we recommend following the below steps for due diligence.

First and foremost, homeowners need to ask the vendor if they have contractor's liability and builder's risk insurance and if they can see the insurance certificate. We recommend calling the insurance company and verifying the policy is active as an extra precaution. Unfortunately, insurance fraud with fake certificates or outdated plans is not uncommon. Always ask for and execute a formal remodel or construction contract to protect you and the project. It is important to lay out the project scope so all parties are on the same page and protected throughout the process.

Secondly, homeowners need to file insurance claims directly with their insurance companies and should not provide full or large up-front payments to individuals or companies. In fact, Texas Business and Commerce Code Chapter 58 states that contractors in disaster areas are not allowed to take up front money unless the business has held a physical business address in the affected counties for at least one year. Additionally, avoid paying cash and working with contractors who will work without permits as there will be no paper trail.

Promises of faster job completion and discounts if you provide up-front or cash payments are often signs they are there for a quick job. If pricing, completion date or other offers seems too good to be true, they probably are.

You want to ensure your contractor will be available to you even after the job is completed, so it is important to confirm that any vendors you consider working with have a permanent physical business address in your area.

We encourage supporting local businesses and vendors who hire and support local contractors and subcontractors who are part of the Houston community. Not only do local vendors have an established history in the affected areas, but they will be around if you have future warranty needs post project completion.

If someone has a local P.O. Box, out-of-state vehicle plates and/or an out-of-town area code, those are signs they are here temporarily and will be long gone if you need them down the road.

We always recommend homeowners ask for a list of recent projects that have been completed in their area in addition to checking for any building, remodeling or construction industry association involvement at a local level. GHBA.org is a useful resource for local homeowners looking to support and work with established, local vendors. While homeowners will be ready to select a contractor quickly, it is important to take the time to look for reviews and testimonials to ensure they have a reliable track record.

Any reputable contractor will be more than willing to show you past projects and put you in touch with past clients. Simple search engine searches of their name and phone number can also yield telling results on their history.

Also check for Facebook, Google and online reviews to see what others are saying about the business. Your contractor will be in your home for an extended period of time. It is imperative homeowners feel comfortable and safe with their selected contractor.

Rebuilding takes time and a strong. trustworthy relationship with your remodeler or builder is imperative for a stress-free process.

This article was provided by a member of the Remodelers Council of the Greater Houston Builders Association. The Remodelers Council is dedicated to promoting professionalism and public awareness of the remodeling profession through education, certification and service to the Houston community. For information on this article, contact Lorraine Hart at lorraine@idealconsulting.net. To join the council or to find a professional remodeler in your area, visit www.ghba.org.