Whenever a natural disaster strikes such as the Southland’s recent earthquakes and high winds, contractors will advertise in the affected areas to offer services in repairing damaged homes. Most can be trusted, but some could be con artists looking to make a quick buck from often-desperate homeowners.
Thus, the Auto Club warned homeowners through its Westways® magazine to be aware of potential scams such as billing for work not performed, charging more than the going rate, or even manufacturing damage in order to collect. By following a few considered steps, homeowners can find a credible contractor to put the home back in shape.
Call your insurance company. Find out if claims arising from your particular natural disaster are covered by your homeowners policy. When it’s safe to do so, visually assess your home and take photos if possible. Then phone your insurer and an agent will help guide you through the claims process.
Get recommendations. Talk to neighbors, friends, and relatives who have had work done recently. Ask your insurance agent for a few names (most insurers maintain a list of approved contractors); or look up local contractors on the National association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies website (nascla.org).
Perform your due diligence. Just as you would with any home repair, get more than one estimate.
Before making a final hiring decision, check with the local Better Business Bureau and/or home builders association to see if any complaints have been lodged against your chosen contractor. And insist upon seeing the contractor’s license and proof of insurance. The contractor should have both general liability and workers’ compensation coverage.
Get a written estimate and a signed final contract. Both should specify, in detail, the work that
will be done and the materials that will be used. They should also provide a breakdown of the prices
for labor and materials.
Be smart about payment. It’s reasonable for a contractor to request a down payment for materials, but never put down a large amount until the contractor arrives on-site with the materials to start the job. In California, the State License Board limits down payments to 10 percent of the total home improvement contract price or $1,000, whichever is less. Paying by credit card could give you some options should you need to stop or contest payment. And by all means, do not pay the contractor in full until the repairs are completed to your satisfaction.
Hand over money to people claiming to work for government agencies. Legitimate state and federal workers should never ask you directly for money as compensation for performing inspections or filling out forms. And if you’re told that you can get your insurance settlement or disaster relief funds faster if you pay a fee, don’t believe it—no one on the up and-up can accelerate the process.
Sign a contract without reading it thoroughly. Make sure the agreement includes a dollar figure
and that your insurer is okay with the estimate.
Give your Social Security number to a contractor. No one needs it except the government agency that’s providing your disaster relief funds. You’ll only need to provide it once, when you first register with the agency handling the funds.
If you are an Auto Club/AAA member and you are not filing an insurance claim, but have the need for a home repair or remodeling project, the AAA Home Improvement & Repair Network can help provide you with a free referral to a contractor prescreened and managed by Contractor Connection℠. For details, go to AAA.com/Home-Improvement.
The Automobile Club of Southern California, the largest member of the AAA federation of motor clubs, has been serving Southern California since 1900. Today, the Auto Club’s members benefit from its legendary roadside assistance, insurance products and services, travel agency, financial products, automotive pricing and buying programs, automotive testing and analysis, trip planning services and highway and transportation safety programs. The Auto Club of Southern California Insurance Group has been ranked “Highest in Customer Satisfaction with the Auto Insurance Claims Experience” in the J.D. Power 2013 U.S. Auto Claims Satisfaction StudySM. Information about these products and services is available on the Auto Club’s Web site at www.AAA.com.