Houston storm damage: Avoid contractor scams with tips from BBB

As people make repairs after last week’s storms, the Better Business Bureau is warning the public to be careful who you hire to help.

If you need to hire a contractor to make repairs, the BBB says it is important to be aware of potential scams.

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The Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South Texas shared the following tips for homeowners who are seeking repairs:

Check out any business with the BBB.  If a business approaches you offering to repair your home, ask for their contact information and allow yourself time to fully research the business, check for references, and review their BBB report at BBBHouston.org to determine if there are any issues of concern.  

Contact your insurance company as soon as possible.  Inform your policy holder of the damage and determine what they will and will not cover and any requirements for your claim.  Be sure to document the damage to your property or your car and take photos if possible.  If you are staying at a temporary location, keep any receipts for lodging or food as some of these costs may be covered by your insurance, depending on what your policy allows.

Avoid high pressure sales pitches.  Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you.  Be pro-active in selecting a company and not re-active to sales solicitations. Make temporary repairs if necessary.  For major repairs, take time to shop around and get 3-4 estimates based on the same specifications and materials.

Be wary of door-to-door solicitors.  Especially be cautious of those who claim to have left-over materials from a job "down the street" or who do not have a permanent place of business.  Also, be leery if a worker shows up on your doorstep to announce that your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage in your home, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it at another time.

Require a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used and the price breakdown. Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor. Be sure their name, address, and phone number along with a start and end date for the work is included in contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety; don’t sign a blank contract and a copy of the signed contract is to be given to you at time of signature.  Always remember, in Texas, you have three days to cancel any contract for a sale made at your home.

Verify if the business is insured.  Once you have found a contractor, request proof of a current insurance certificate covering workman’s compensation, property damage and personal liability.
Never pay in full for all repairs in advance, and do not pay cash. While many companies may ask for a deposit, BBB suggests that no more than one-third of the job be paid up front.