After a storm is the time to be on high alert for unscrupulous contractors looking to exploit homeowners whose properties have been damaged. An LSU survey of those hit by Hurricane Katrina found that 61% percent of respondents were victims of contractor fraud, and the average loss was between $10,000 and $30,000.
How can you avoid getting ripped off? The first rule of thumb is to never hire anyone who calls you first. A lot of contractors will cold-call victims using reverse directories to find the numbers of those on storm-damaged streets, or they’ll go door-to-door. Consider them uninvited pests and do not work with them.
Also be on the lookout for panic peddlers who tell you, “If you don’t hire me today, these terrible things will happen!” Water-proofers are notorious for this. They’ll claim that your foundation walls will collapse if you don’t put in their expensive system. This kind of fix is almost never needed—you can prevent most wet basement problems by keeping your gutters clean, extending your downspouts four to six feet away and sloping the soil surrounding the foundation on a downward angle of six inches over the first four feet.
Upselling and hard-selling are two more red flags. Don’t fall victim to a contractor’s suggestion that you “might as well” fix this, that and the other thing while you’re at it. And don’t listen to anyone who tries to pressure you into signing that day in order to capture a certain price—a good deal today should be a good deal tomorrow. Additionally, contractors who call for cash up front, especially full payment, should be avoided like the plague. However, if you’ve done your due diligence on the contractor and have a contract, a 10% deposit is fine.
One final tip: Hire an independent public insurance adjuster. They typically work on a commission basis and have your best interest in mind. They work for you, not the insurance company, and will make sure you get every dime that’s coming to you. Visit the website of the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters for more information.
I think the absolute advice of “don’t work with these people” is a bit harsh. Some of these businesses have very capable contractors and A+ ratings on BBB.
That being said, caution is definitely needed. Don’t work with the shady ones, for sure, but I wouldn’t say don’t work with ANY of them.