How to avoid storm-chasing contractor scams
It's important to look out for storm-chasing contractors, who move city to city to find storm-damaged homes and offer lackluster service, says Lindus. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Eric H. of Chicago)
We’ve all heard phrases such as “seize the moment” and “the early bird gets the worm.” These terms tend to apply to devastating storms that leave homes in a community damaged and in need of repair.
Naturally, when an occurrence like this happens, it’s a homeowner’s first instinct to restore their property as quickly as possible. Taking advantage of this mentality are contractors from all over the country who pack up their pickup trucks and set their GPS coordinates for the impacted area.
These contractors bank on the fact that homeowners are in a stressful situation and may take less precautions than they normally would when screening a potential contractor than if the work was something that they’d been saving and planning on for years.
One of the tactics that these storm-chasing contractors are using is going door to door in affected neighborhoods, promising homeowners everything under the sun to get them to sign on the dotted line.
Now, we’re not saying that someone knocking on your door, offering storm restoration assistance is always a predator. In fact, sometimes when reputable estimators have been out on bids, they’ve stopped at a neighbor’s property to check to see if they are in need of assistance as well.
What we are saying is that storm damage already places stress on a homeowner and it can certainly seem like it’s taking the path of least resistance by signing with the first company that shows up at your door to give you an estimate, but we caution you to use the below screening tools when encountering a contractor knocking on your door soliciting business.
Ask, “What city were you last in?”
Scary but true, many storm chasers go from city to city ripping off homeowners. While they may not admit that they were recently in another city for their hailstorms earlier in the summer and have pending lawsuits, when you ask them for local references for work performed within the last six months, they will be unable to produce them.
Asking for identification and being shown a driver’s license from a non-adjoining state should also be a red flag that you are not dealing with someone local.
Insurance endorsed contractors.
As a homeowner, you have the right to choose the contractor that performs your insurance restoration work. Some insurance companies have preferred service providers that they strongly recommend, and in some cases, they will even guarantee to back their work if it’s performed incorrectly.
This sounds great on paper until you realize that it is to that contractor’s benefit to perform minimal work as cheaply as possible so that the insurance company continues to send them work. Protect yourself by doing your own homework and not going with the first person that knocks on your door.
Contractors who pay your deductible, offer discounts and/or rebates on insurance restoration work.
In the state of Minnesota, it is illegal for a contractor to pay your insurance deductible. Additionally, the Minnesota Department of Labor prohibits the discounting of any insurance restoration work on your home.
Kickbacks or rebates from a contractor are also not permissible. Anyone who offers to do any of this should be reported to the Better Business Bureau or your local department of labor.
Every reputable contractor should be able to readily provide:
- Local references - Don’t forget to verify reputation on sites such as Angie’s List.
- Proof of insurance - Without this, if one of their workers is injured on the jobsite, you may be held liable for their injuries.
- A local address and not a P.O. Box.
The bottom line.
There are three components of every construction job: the time it takes to do the job, the cost and the quality of workmanship. It is highly improbable that you will ever get the best of all three (if you’re being offered this, go through the bid with a fine toothed comb to make sure you’re not being duped.)
Good things happen to those who wait, especially when it comes to insurance claims. Take a deep breath, do some research and allow yourself to make a well-informed decision.