When a flood is over, victims must begin the dirty task of cleaning up their homes. The Better Business Bureau warns consumers to watch out for opportunists looking for victims of their own.
When seeking the services of a cleaning and restoration firm, the BBB urges consumers to keep the following in mind:
- The restoration contract should include a description of all the work to be performed, including the quality of materials to be used.
- Flood victims should not make decisions they are uncomfortable with or be pushed into making a decision.
- Victims should save all receipts, including those for food and temporary lodging that are covered under their insurance policy.
- Contracts should include a price break-down for both labor and materials.
- Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including any warranties on materials or labor.
- References at least a year old should be requested. It may seem impossible to travel to an unaffected area to inspect references after a disaster, but remember the time spent will be minor in comparison to the possibility of living with inferior repair work for years.
- Review all documentation before any payments are made and before signing the dotted line.
- Flood victims can call the Better Business Bureau for a reliability report on a company’s performance or get tips and reports on the the web.
When residents return to their homes after a flood, a disaster of another type may plague the area– the unscrupulous repair person.
Before homeowners make any repairs they should determine how much aid is available. The amount of aid may determine the extent of repairs. The three basic funding sources for repairs are insurance proceeds, government assistance, and private funds.
If a homeowner makes emergency repairs, they should be sure to document all expenditures including temporary lodging and meals. Documentation may be necessary for reimbursement.
The Bureau suggests you watch out for these red flags:
- Homeowners should be suspicious of door-to-door workers who, in order to get the job, may use scare tactics such as allegedly unsafe structural conditions.
- Contractors that use high-pressure sales tactics or “price is good for today only.”
- Companies that are vague about there location. Homeowners should check to see if the company’s name is on the worker’s vehicle, if the company is listed in the telephone directory, and if a street address is provided.
- Although the victims may be most concerned with getting things back to normal, additional heartache and money will be saved by proceeding with caution.
The BBB offers these tips in hiring a contractor:
Unless you know a contractor you trust, homeowners should request two or three estimates of the cost of repairs. The homeowners should also be certain that the contractors are bidding the same package including materials to be used, when work is to begin and be completed, and when payments are to be made. If financing, the contract should include a breakdown of these costs as well.
Ask for a business card and the full home location of the company
- A written statement reiterating any oral promises made by the contractor or sales representative, including any warranties on material or labor.
- When selecting a contractor, the homeowner should make sure the contract contains a detailed description of the necessary work. A contract which states “repair siding” is an open invitation for abuse.
A down payment of 30% of the total is standard for the industry. Never pay for all repairs in advance. The time when work is to begin is particularly important as many contractors may have a backlog of work due to the flood. Homeowners should not sign a completion form until they are totally satisfied. It is wise for homeowners to ask for a lien waver to protect them in the event the contractor fails to pay their suppliers.
Cooling & Heating Equipment, Major Appliances
Widespread property damage brings out opportunists who attempt to reap large profits from flood victims. Homeowners should exercise caution when having their heaters, air conditioners and major appliances repaired, replaced or cleaned after a natural disaster. There are several steps consumers can take to protect themselves before contacting a repair company:
- Thoroughly clean out mud and residual material.
- Let units dry out thoroughly in order to determine whether the equipment is still functional.
- The gas valve in furnaces could be dangerous if the unit has been submerged. If this occurs, a professional opinion is recommended.
- When assessing damage to refrigerators, dishwashers and washers or dryers, homeowners should keep in mind that the degree the appliance was submerged directly affects the amount of damage incurred.
Consumers who decide their appliances need repair work should obtain bids from several firms, making sure that the specifications on each bid are identical. In addition, consumers should ask these firms for references and check each one carefully.
Beware of fly-by-night repair businesses soliciting work in unmarked trucks. A five-year warranty isn’t worth much if the consumer can't track down the company that issued it.
Complaints against pest and termite control companies tend to increase after a flood. The BBB regularly processes complaints, which allege that a company found pests during a “free” inspection, but a later inspection by another company disclosed no evidence of pest infestation.
A second opinion should be sought, particularly if infestation is found during a “free” inspection from a door-to-door salesperson. The relatively low cost of an inspection may prove to be a good investment.
Before signing a contract, consumers should determine whether the company is listed in the telephone directory and whether it has a street address. Some questionable companies may operate with only a truck, telephone answering service and a mail drop. Consumers may also check to see whether the name of the company is on the truck.
Often times water damaged vehicles can be transported out of state to be sold. Therefore, as the flood waters recede, consumers nationwide should be on the look out when shopping for used automobiles. Unscrupulous dealers may try to profit by selling cars that have been damaged by flooding. Individuals may also try to get rid of damaged cars by placing ads in the classified sections of newspapers or other publications.
The following signs may indicate whether a vehicle has been exposed to flood waters:
- A strong, musty odor resulting from mildew
- Rusty brackets under the dash, which hold the electrical wiring in place
- Discolored, faded or stained upholstery
- A well-defined line in the vehicle which will indicate how high the water rose
- If the carpet has been replaced, new carpet may fit loosely or may not match the interior color
As always, check with the Better Business Bureau for company reliability reports. Reports are subject to change at any time. Always verify BBB Accreditation by calling or checking on the web.