Homeowners need to be on alert for scams following severe weather

Staff ReportBBB

With storm season comes scam artists seeking to take advantage of distressed homeowners in need of repairs.

People should be extremely cautious of anyone going door-to-door offering services such as home repair, removal of downed trees, landscaping work or even auto repair.

For those with storm damage the Better Business Bureau gives the following advice before choosing a contractor:

  • When approached by a contractor, ask for proof of licensing and bonding.
  • Try to get at least 3-4 quotes from contractors, and insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual.
  • Do not pay for the job in advance. Be wary of any contractor who demands full payment up front.
  • Do not hire people who show up at your door offering services such as tree or debris removal and roof repair.
  • Resist high-pressure sales tactics such as the “good deal” you’ll get only if you hire the contractor on the spot.
  • Check out the company first with the BBB at www.bbb.org and deal only with reputable local contractors.
  • Get a written contract that specifies the price and the work to be done and a time frame. In Illinois state law requires a written contract with all costs enumerated for home repair or remodeling work over $1,000.
  • Prices are often high in the immediate aftermath of a storm. Buy only the services that are necessary to make your home safe and habitable. Wait at least a few days to hire other contractors because the rates are likely to drop.
  • Pay by credit card, if possible; you may have additional protection if there’s a problem. Otherwise, pay by check. Never pay in cash.
  • Check that the contractor’s vehicle has signs or markings on it with the business name and phone number.
  • Be sure that all promises made are put in writing.

For those with flood damage the BBB offers the following:

  • Request bids from two or three different companies.
  • Don’t automatically pick the lowest bid.
  • Base all bids on the same criteria.

Reviewing contracts should remain a key point as well in these situations:

  • Research for details and free information on contractors you can trust at bbb.org and consider using the BBB’s FREE online service eQuote to obtain estimates, proposals or general information from BBB Accredited contractors.
  • Get all estimates in writing.
  • Never sign a contract with blank spaces or one you do not fully understand.
  • Homeowners should check with local and county units of government to determine if permits or inspections are required.
  • Determine whether the contractor has the proper insurance.

Regarding flood insurance the BBB recommends the following:

  • Call your insurance agent or company to inquire about the availability of flood insurance in the area. Keep in mind that flood insurance becomes effective 30 days after it is purchased.
  • Standard flood coverage does not typically cover damage resulting from sewer backups or sump pump issues. Ask your insurance agent or company if such additional coverage is appropriate to add to your policy.
  • Homeowners should take an inventory of their personal property and make photocopies of their insurance policies, keeping all such important papers in a secure location away from home. Taking pictures of various rooms and their contents is also a great way to document the contents.

For more tips on scams visit bbb.org.

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