Beware Post-Storm Contractor Scams
If your home was damaged by Hurricane Sandy, you might be faced with another potential disaster: storm-chasing contractors who promise quick repairs for cash upfront. More often than not, these contractors appear after a major storm and pocket the money, perform shoddy, little or no work and disappear.
Angie’s List tips to avoid shady storm chasers:
- What not to do: If a stranger comes to your storm-ravaged yard offering to fix your roof, remove trees or do other major repair work for cash up front, just say no. Chances are, he or she will take your money and disappear, leaving you with little or no recourse.
- Do your research: Check Angie’s List to see what local customer's experiences have been with the company. You can also find the status of the contractor’s bonding and liability insurance coverage. While you might get lucky working with an independent provider who lists his truck as a permanent address, remember that you have few options if the job goes awry or the provider disappears.
- Quality is worth the wait: When massive storms hit, tree service professionals, plumbers, roofers and hauling companies are in high demand, and the best performers are generally the busiest. Beware the company with time on its hands when every other company can’t even answer the phone.
- Get estimates: Though your situation might seem to be one of desperation, avoid settling on the first contractor who comes along and offers to do the job. Take enough time to get at least a few different estimates on the job.
- Document important information: Get all estimates in writing, including the price, materials to be used and the timeline for completing the job. This is often the best ammunition you have if things go wrong.
- Prepare for next time: Don’t put off necessary home and lawn repairs to the point where a storm can make the situation worse. Research your contractor and establish a relationship before you need them.
“Service companies will be extremely busy after a storm, especially if there is extensive damage in the area,” says Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List. “In the meantime, take good look around your home – even if it may appear damage free. You may have to make some temporary adjustments to prevent further damage while you wait for someone to come out.”
- Examine the structure: Make sure your home is structurally sound before entering. Check foundations and walls for settling and cracking. Leave immediately if you hear shifting or unusual noises or smell gas. You may need to hire a professional inspector before entering.
- Look for electrical problems: Stay clear of exposed wires. Leave any repairs to a licensed electrician.
- Remove standing water: Cleaning up the mud and water-soaked belongings can seem like the biggest task at hand, but drying out that area is important because if left damp too long, dangerous mold can grow. Remove any wet items and use a dehumidifier or open windows to help circulate air. Do not bring furnishings back inside until walls, floors and framing are completely dry.
- Protect the roof and windows: Check the roof on the inside and outside. Missing shingles are common after a storm. Put a tarp over the damaged areas - this will allow for temporary protection until the roofing contractor can get out. Board up any broken windows.
- Inspect your trees: Visually survey all your trees and look for damaged and broken branches that may be trapped and could possibly still fall. Consider hiring a certified arborist – they are trained in practices for the purpose of maintaining healthy trees.
- Contact your insurance agent: Report damage to your adjuster immediately to start the claims process – some companies require an adjuster’s approval before work can be done. Take pictures of any damage and take inventory of your possessions and property. The better organized you are, the fewer problems you’ll have down the road.