Following a major natural disaster, contractors often move into neighborhoods impacted by storm damage. Unfortunately, not all contractors are the same, and some homeowners may find themselves with unsatisfactory work and unfinished repairs that can cost thousands of dollars out-of-pocket.
These contractors often advertise in the affected areas offering to repair damaged homes. Most can be trusted, but some could be con artists looking to make a quick buck from desperate homeowners.
“For most people, a house is the single most expensive asset they will ever own,” said AAA Texas Spokesperson Joshua Zuber. “Our goal is to educate homeowners on how to protect their property after severe weather strikes.”
That’s why AAA Texas warns homeowners to be aware of potential scams such as billing for work not performed, charging more than the going rate or even manufacturing damage to collect more money.
AAA Texas offers homeowners the following tips to find a credible contractor:
Call your insurance company. Find out if claims from the natural disaster are covered by your homeowners policy. When it’s safe to do so, visually assess your home and take photos, if possible. Then call your claims adjuster to help guide you through the claims process.
Get recommendations. Talk with neighbors, friends and relatives who have had work done recently. Ask your claims agent for a referral (most insurers partner with a network of approved contractors); or look up local contractors on the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies website at nascla.org (If you are a AAA member, and you are not filing an insurance claim but need a home repair or remodeling project, the AAA Home Improvement & Repair Network can provide you with a free referral to a prescreened contractor that’s managed by Contractor Connection℠. For details, visit AAA.com/Home-Improvement).
Perform your due diligence. Just as you would with any home repair, get more than one estimate. Before making a final hiring decision, check with the Better Business Bureau and/or home builders association to see if any complaints have been lodged against your chosen contractor. State licensing agencies may also have a list that shares contractor complaints. Always insist upon seeing the contractor’s license and proof of current insurance. The contractor should have both general liability and workers’ compensation coverage.
Get a written estimate and a signed final contract. Both should specify, in detail, the work that will be done and the materials that will be used. The contract should also provide a breakdown of the prices for labor and materials, a schedule of deliverables and payments.
Be smart about payments. It’s reasonable for a contractor to request a down payment for materials, but never put down a large amount until the contractor arrives on-site with the materials to start the job. Paying by credit card could give you some options should you need to stop or contest payment. Only pay the contractor in full once the repairs are finished to your satisfaction and you receive a signed completion certificate of the work that was done.
Never hand over money to people claiming to work for government agencies. Legitimate state and federal workers should not ask you directly for money as compensation for performing inspections or filling out forms. If you’re told that you can get your insurance settlement or disaster relief funds faster if you pay a fee, don’t believe it—no one on the up-and-up can accelerate the process.
Never sign a contract without reading it thoroughly. Make sure the agreement includes a dollar figure and that your insurer is okay with the estimate. Never sign a contract with blanks. Fraudulent contractors may enter unacceptable terms later.
Never provide your Social Security number to a contractor. Nobody needs this number except the government agency that’s providing your disaster relief funds. You’ll only need to provide it once when you first register with the agency handling the funds.
For more information about preventing disaster fraud visit the National Insurance Crime Bureau at https://www.nicb.org/prevent-fraud-theft/disaster-fraud.
About AAA: AAA provides more than 60 million members with automotive, travel, insurance and financial services through its federation of motor clubs and nearly 1,000 branch offices across North America. Since 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for safe mobility. Drivers can request roadside assistance, identify nearby gas prices, locate discounts, book a hotel or map a route via the AAA Mobile app. AAA Texas branch offices throughout the state can be found by visiting www.AAA.com. Follow AAA Texas on Twitter: @AAATexas and Facebook: www.facebook.com/AAATexas.