JANUARY 13, 1997
Rebuilding after the storms
by the Better Business Bureau of Western Washington
Homeowners suffering damage from the recent holiday snow and rain storms are being warned not to let disaster strike twice. It's an unfortunate truth that con men often breeze into disaster areas, clean out as many people as possible, then blow back out of town.
If they haven't already done so, consumers should check with their insurance company about home and auto policy coverage and any specific claim-filing requirements the company may have. Then don't be stampeded into signing a contract for long-term home repairs. If it is necessary to make emergency repairs to your home in order to prevent further damage, it may not always be possible or practical to shop around for a contractor as carefully as you would under normal circumstances, or to get competing bids.
But before you have permanent repairs done, take time to check out the contractor. In all cases, you should have a written contract covering the work to be done and the price to be paid. Review it carefully before you sign.
"Consumers should be wary of itinerant repairmen who come into the area," said BBB President Bob Andrew. "In the wake of disaster, fly-by-night operators often try to take money from victims--supposedly to buy home repair materials--then leave town, never to be seen again."
To find a reputable home improvement/repair contractor, take the following precautions:
The Better Business Bureau suggests that all home repair contracts should include: name, address, and telephone number of contractor (verify that these numbers are correct); a written description of all work to be done, including the quality of materials to be used; a bid based on the job, not by the hour; a price breakdown for both labor and materials; start-up and completion dates; and a written statement reiterating any oral promises made by the contractor or sales representative, including any warranties on materials or labor.
- If possible, obtain bids from several firms, making sure that the specifications of each bid are identical.
- Contact Contractor's Licensing in Olympia to be sure the contractor is properly licensed and to check on a contractor's bond. The number is 1-800-647-0982.
- Find out if the contractor has adequate liability and worker's compensation insurance in case of an accident on your property.
- If possible, ask for and check references. Try to talk to previous customers and look for a similar job that has been completed.
- Never pay for a job in advance. The deposit should be no more than one-third of the total contract price. Pay by check or credit card; don't pay cash to a contractor or salesperson, and make sure the check is made out to the business, not the individual selling the service.
- If the contractor requires a deposit, ask if you can put the money into the Better Business Bureau's Security Escrow Account. The money will be released upon satisfactory completion of the job. This will also help protect you against property liens if a primary contractor does not pay subcontractors.
- Beware of contractors soliciting work in unmarked vans or trucks and requiring advance payment--especially "cash under the table"--and do not succumb to high pressure tactics, such as, "The price is only good for today."
- Contact the BBB for a list of contractors who are Bureau members.
Consumers should not sign a completion certificate until they are satisfied with the job, and they should not try to save money by hiring an unlicensed and unbonded contractor.
To contact the Better Business Bureau for a reliability report on a contractor mechanic or a list of BBB member contractors or mechanics, or to file a complaint, call 431-2222 (Seattle) or 1-800-488-3222, or write the Better Business Bureau of Western Washington; P.O. Box 68926; SeaTac, WA 98168-0926. There is a small charge for some telephone services. Consumers will be notified if the service they select has a charge.