As thousands of people clean up after last week's storms, storm chasers, or people who are looking to prey on those affected by the storm, are working to clean out your wallet. Thousands of consumers across our 32 county serving area are dealing with everything from damaged roofs to downed trees.
With all this work to do, there are people hoping to profit. "Unfortunately, the aftermath of a crisis brings out contractors who take advantage of those who have already been victimized," says Julie Wheeler, President & CEO of BBB Serving Western VA. "Whether it's roof repair/replacement or you have downed trees to be rid of, you need to take certain precautions when it comes to hiring a contractor.”
BBB offers the following tips to homeowners who suffer damage in the wake of a natural disaster:
Do your research. Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements.
Save all receipts if temporary roofing repairs are necessary.
Stay calm. Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you.
Don't be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Be pro-active in selecting a company and not re-active to sales solicitations.
Shop around. For major repairs, take time to shop around and get 3-4 estimates based on the same specifications and materials. Check out references that are at least one year-old, and verify that the contractor is required to be licensed and/or registered to do work in your area. Also, check with your local building inspector to see if a building permit is required.
Avoid high-pressure sales tactics. Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have left-over materials from a job “down the street” or who do not have a permanent place of business. If sales people go door-to-door, check to see if your community requires them to have solicitation permits.
Trust your gut. 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 in your home, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it. While most roofing contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing someone you do not know to inspect your roof. An unethical contractor may actually create damage to get work.
Get everything in writing. Require a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. Be sure their name, address, license number and phone number are included in the contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety, don’t sign a blank contract, and make sure you get a copy of the signed contract 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. The following 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, e.g., underlayment, ice dam protection membrane
• 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, e.g., adding new vents
• Who is responsible for repairing/replacing exterior landscape or interior
finishes that are damaged during the course of the work? Make sure that it contains language addressing who is responsible for any damage that occurs as a result of the work. All items of concern and work to be done should be included 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.)? Is there extra charge for this service?
If one estimate seems much lower than the others and it 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 3 day cancellation period. If an estimate or contract is confusing, ask the contractor to break it down into items/terms you can understand.
Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. BBB has BBB Business Reviews on more than 67,000 roofing contractors, and they are available for free at www.bbb.org.
If you need more information, contact the BBB at (540) 342-3455 or (800) 533-5501. You can also visit www.bbb.org. Follow us on Twitter at