The tree damage, electrical issues or damage to roofs and siding left by this week's storms already are attracting traveling workers offering repair services, and the Better Business Bureau is urging consumers to use caution when dealing with these companies.
Storm chasing has become a multimillion-dollar industry, complete with computerized hail forecasting, teams of out-of-state installers and trained salespeople who go door to door soliciting work. These firms typically set up temporary shops in the area to capture construction work caused by storm damage.
Sometimes they canvass the area with fliers, post signs at intersections or go door to door offering their services.
“While some of these contractors may offer a low price and fast repairs, they may not stand behind their work,” said BBB President and CEO Jim Hegarty. “If the contractor is from out of state, who will service the warranty if problems arise later? Consumers should ask questions.”
BBB is also warning area contractors to beware of storm chasers who are willing to pay local construction companies substantial amounts of money to use their business's established name, reputation and phone number so they can masquerade as a local entity.
“Many contractors who agreed to let storm chasers use their name regret their decision after they were left 'holding the bag' of unsatisfied customers because of poor workmanship or unfulfilled warranties,” Hegarty said.
Hegarty said storm victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. He suggests starting by visiting the Better Business Bureau website or by calling the BBB at 800-649-6814 to get business reviews or lists of BBB accredited repair firms.
• Get the company's complete name, address and phone number. Be skeptical of any vague or hesitant answers, or no offers of contracts, brochures or anything in writing. Beware of high-pressure sales tactics.
• Make sure your contractor has all the appropriate permits for the work being done and verify that the company has liability and workers' compensation insurance. If a contractor cannot provide proof, beware. If possible, verify that the insurance is active by contacting the contractor's insurance company directly.
• If it is an out-of-town or out-of-state company, ask how any warranty issues or problems will be addressed after the work is done and the company is gone.
• Ask for references from previous jobs and check them out before signing the contract.
• Before work starts, have a signed, written contract including start and completion dates, exact costs, specific work to be done and warranty information. Read fine print carefully and understand all terms before signing.
• Get at least three quotes from contractors and insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual.
• If you have damage, check with your homeowners insurance to have an adjuster sent to determine if and how much it will cover to repair or replace damaged property.
• Be highly suspicious of a contractor who asks you to pay for the entire job upfront.