Recovery work begins in Oklahoma, but scammers are at work too
MOORE, OKLA. -- The people of central Oklahoma are working their way towards recovery.
Driving the streets of Moore today, Rachel and I are noticing a much different atmosphere than when we arrived last week. We see many more curbside piles of debris. Many more cleared lots. Countless neighbors, families, friends and strangers coming together to begin the cleanup process.
While out on the streets this week, we heard several different stories of storm chasers already in the area, ready to prey on the tornado victims. So while in town, we wanted to speak with some local service providers – who happen to be highly rated on Angie’s List – to see how homeowners can best protect themselves during the storm recovery.
David Fonzi, sales and service manager of Oklahoma City’s A-List Construction, says the very first thing to do after any type of disaster – tornado, hail damage, fire, etc. – is to contact your insurance company.
“They’ll let you know your first steps,” Fonzi says.
If the insurance adjuster thinks it’s necessary to file claims, the insurance company will take care of all payments. A homeowner should never make upfront payments to a contractor.
“You should never have to pay in an instant out of pocket,” Fonzi warns.
While out tarping roofs this week, the homeowner of a neighboring house came over and asked how much Fonzi’s company was charging to tarp roofs. When he explained that the homeowner isn’t responsible for any upfront payments, she realized she was in the middle of a scam. The “roofer” she was working with convinced her she needed to pay upfront. She was just on her way back from the bank with money in hand.
“You should not have to come out of pocket for anything like that,” Moore roofer Randy Jasinski says.
Jasinski, owner of Randy’s Roofing, says he’s heard roofers are getting homeowners to sign blank contracts this week. Roofers will present contracts that have a blank spot where the cost of the job should be.
This is a problem for several reasons. Jasinski says the negotiation with insurance companies takes place before work begins, so there should always be a set price that usually doesn’t change, unless there is hidden structural damage. Blank contacts like this can also include fine print details, such as you signing your rights away to use any other companies.
“One bad person makes the entire profession look bad,” he says.
Jasinski says it’s also important to know the details of your own insurance policy. Some companies don’t want anyone to work on the roof until an adjuster has been out, while others claim it’s the homeowner’s responsibility to prevent further damage. For storm victims needing to prevent further damage, Jasinski and his son are providing free tarping service.
Avoiding 'storm chasers'
Dealing with the heartbreak and frustration of property loss or damage following a major storm like the tornado in Oklahoma can give you more than enough difficulty, but dealing with additional loss or harm caused by a shady storm-chasing contractor can make things much worse. To protect yourself financially, follow these tips:
1. Avoid door-to-door solicitations
Out-of-state companies often rush into disaster areas where widespread damage has occurred, looking to make a quick buck from unsuspecting homeowners, so be wary of door-to-door solicitors.
2. Always get multiple estimates
Although it may be difficult with busy contractors dealing with sheer number of other homeowners seeking to repair damage to their homes or property, don’t rush. Always get at least three estimates so you can make an apples-to-apples comparison.
3. Be on-site for any property inspections
Do not let anyone inspect your property without you or another responsible spouse or family member present. Crooked contractors have been known to fake storm damage with hammers or golf balls to increase the overall cost to the insurance company. If you have not vetted the contractor, it’s best to deny them access to your property.
4. Check the company’s details
Before signing a contract or hiring a contractor, verify the business’ contact information including phone and physical address. Many storm-chasing contractors will set up temporary offices to appear like a local company or use a local company’s name. Ask for local references.
5. Check the license
6. Verify bonding and insurancee
Contact the company's insurance and bonding companies to determine whether their liability and worker's compensation policies are big enough to cover your job.
7. Play your cards close to the chest
When dealing with an insurance claim, do not to tell bidding contractors how much your policy will cover for the damages. Some companies will conveniently estimate the cost of repairs to near or exactly that amount. Instead, ask for a “scope of loss” that outlines materials and work needed, without prices, by a trusted contractor, public adjuster or insurance company.
8. Avoid large down payments
A contractor may ask for a down payment, but be wary if they want a large deposit or cash payment that's more than 1/3 of the job's total cost. Withhold at least 10 percent until the job is completed to your satisfaction.
9. Don't sign away your settlement
Never sign over your homeowner's insurance settlement upfront and avoid a company that offers to pay or help with your deductible. In some states, deductible help is considered insurance fraud.
10. Make sure you're covered when the job is complete
Get lien waivers from the contractor or subcontractor at the same time you make a payment for materials and work. A lien waiver constitutes proof of payment and protects you if a general contractor fails to pay subcontractors.
11. Know your contract rights
Remember that in many areas you have a legal right to cancel a contract within three business days if you signed it based on the contractor's visit to your home. After natural disasters, state or local officials may extend that time frame. Don't sign a contract with blank spaces. Always obtain an original copy with both party's signatures.