Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Advice for consumers on what to do when disaster strikes.
The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) reminds consumers who experience storm damage to take certain precautions when making repair and restoration decisions.
Although natural disasters allow communities the chance to come together and help one another, they also provide people the opportunity to take advantage of storm victims. Home and yard repairs are most prone to "after-disaster" scams.
"Victims of storm damage are particularly vulnerable to fly-by-night contractors who attempt to take advantage of an already terrible situation," said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB. "Home owners need to keep their cool and take time to ensure they are making wise decisions before hiring help."
The BBB offers advice on what to do immediately following a serious storm, working with your insurance adjuster, and finding the perfect contractor. Please consider the following tips to ease the stress and anguish experienced after disaster strikes:
· Contact your insurance adjuster immediately to check about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts, including those for food, temporary lodging, or other expenses that may be covered under your policy.
· Document the damage to your property and possessions thoroughly. Go from room to room and create a detailed account of your belongings, taking pictures and video if necessary.
· Make any temporary repairs to limit further damage to the home, such as boarding up broken windows or throwing a tarp over a leaky roof. Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Do not be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact.
· For major permanent repairs, take time to shop around for contractors, as some specialize in storm damage repair. Ask your contractor to explain their process for working with insurance companies, to describe what you can expect to experience during the process, and for additional references. Contact your local BBB (www.thefirstbbb.org) for a reliability report on the contractor.
· Ask for proof of liability and workers compensation insurance, as well as a license to do work in Minnesota or North Dakota. A contractor should be responsible for obtaining all necessary permits, not you. If you choose to do business with someone who is not local, be sure to clarify who will be taking care of any service needs that may arise after the completion of the project.
· Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have left-over repair materials from a job "down the street" or who do not have a permanent place of business. Never allow a worker who shows up on your doorstep inspect your house - only permit engineers, architects, or building officials to determine structural damage.
· Prepare a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and material. Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor.
· Be sure the name, address, license number, and phone number of the contractor appear on all invoices and contracts.
· Before you sign a final contract, review all documentation and be sure it specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor and that all oral promises are included. Ask for a start and end date for the work to be done.
· Be aware that anything you sign is a contract. Read carefully or avoid signing an "estimate" or "authorization" form before you have actually decided to hire a particular contractor.
· Never pay in full for all repairs in advance, and do not pay cash.
Remember that disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. Take your time to gather enough information about the situation and all possible contractors. If your insurance does not cover all of your losses you may qualify for additional assistance. Check with the Federal Emergency Management Agency at www.fema.gov for more information.
For more information on storm damage repairs, consumers and businesses can contact the Better Business Bureau at 651-699-1111, toll free at 1-800-646-6222, or by visiting our Web site at www.thefirstbbb.org.
The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota is a private, non-profit organization providing services to consumers and businesses. The focus of the Bureau's activity is to promote an ethical marketplace by encouraging honest advertising and selling practices, and offering dispute resolution.