BBB warns property owners affected by disaster, to beware of “travelers”— out-of-town contractors soliciting your business. They may use high pressure sales tactics, require full payment upfront or require you to get the necessary permits. Although not all “travelers” are scammers, they may lack the proper licensing for your area, offer quick fixes or make big promises they can’t deliver.
After determining what your insurance provides and what local and state disaster assistance is available, BBB offers the following tips to help you recover from a natural disaster:
Do your research. Find businesses in your area you can trust at bbb.org. BBB has Business Reviews on thousands of contractors. Check your state’s government agency responsible for registering and/or licensing contractors.
Resist high-pressure sales. Some traveling contractors use tactics such as the “good deal” you’ll get only if you hire the contractor on the spot. Be pro-active in selecting a contractor and not re-active to sales calls or door-to-door pitches. Disaster survivors should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor.
Be especially careful of door-to-door contractors. Many municipalities require a solicitation permit if sales people go door-to-door. Ask for identification. Check their vehicle for a business name, phone number and license plates for your state.
Conduct at least three interviews. Allow a full hour for each interview. Make absolutely certain that the company has a physical location in your area, and you know where the company is headquartered. Also, get quotes in writing. Don’t accept estimates over the phone and be wary of very low estimates which could set up a “bait and switch” tactic.
Know your rights and responsibilities. Check to make sure any contractors you are considering hiring are properly licensed and have up-to-date workers compensation and liability insurance that covers falls and injuries to their contractors on your property. Be aware that if you hire an uninsured and unlicensed contractor and a serious injury were to occur to the contractor, you, as the person that hired them, could potentially be liable for paying the contractor’s compensation benefits.
Don’t pay for the job in advance. Be wary of any contractor who demands full payment upfront. Insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual and pay by credit card, if possible; you may have additional protection if there’s a problem.
Get a written contract. Make sure it specifies the price, the work to be done and who will do it, the amount of liability insurance coverage maintained by the contractor and a time frame. Require a copy of their current certificate of insurance and verify it’s in effect. Also, watch out for contractors who ask homeowners to sign an estimate that is actually a contract. This is a deceptive way to get the consumer to hire a company without realizing it.
Be wary regarding places you can’t see. While most contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing someone you do not know to inspect your property. An unethical contractor may actually create damage to get work. The same goes for attics, crawl spaces, ducts and other places you cannot easily access or see for yourself.